First comes the deal, then the fighting over the spoils. Just a day after Vodafone announced it was in talks to sell its stake in the US mobile business Verizon, investors have begun rowing over how the proceeds, likely to be around £84bn, should be spent.
Some argue the company should return as much of the cash as possible to them. Hargreaves Lansdown yesterday said as much as £40bn could be handed out to shareholders in the form of a special dividend. Others say Vodafone should keep the proceeds and invest it in new ventures that could reap further strong returns: after all, they reason, with yields at rock-bottom levels on most assets these days, what good is sitting on cash?
As one top 10 shareholder said: "The worst-case scenario is that Vodafone takes the money and just hands it all back to shareholders. Then you are left with a weird company that isn't really doing anything."
It could pump the proceeds into accelerating its diversification away from just mobile technology. It has bought fixed-line operator Cable & Wireless Worldwide and Kabel Deutschland in the past 18 months but, say some analysts, must move quickly to continue this push if it is not to be left behind by rivals offering home packages of cable or satellite TV, fixed-line phone, broadband internet and mobile, known in the industry as "quad play". Others are keener to get their hands on the money, with some investors saying Vodafone would have a major revolt on its hands if there was not a substantial return to shareholders.
Economists were assessing how such a payout would boost the economy and the stock market. Philip Shaw of Investec said: "The effect on stock markets could be like QE. Investors are going to have to put that extra money somewhere. And... we are talking about nearly a quarter of the entire stock of assets that have been bought under the QE programme."