Vodafone nets £7bn as Vivendi buys up SFR

Vodafone has agreed to sell its stake in the French mobile-phone group SFR to Vivendi in a deal worth €7.9bn (£6.9bn), bringing to a close months of negotiations.

The talks had foundered over the valuation of Vodafone's 44 per cent holding, with the French company hoping to pay no more than €7bn. But the parties announced last night that an agreement had been reached. The transaction is expected to be completed before the summer.

Vodafone will land a cash consideration of €7.7bn, followed by a final dividend of €200m from SFR when it completes. The companies have also signed an agreement for ongoing commercial co-operation.

Vivendi's chief executive, Jean-Bernard Lévy, had signalled in November that his company was keen to buy Vodafone's stake in SFR, France's second-largest mobile operator. He said yesterday that the deal would "help Vivendi to focus further on profitable growth and innovation".

The sale is the latest part of a drive by Vodafone's chief executive, Vittorio Colao, to sell off most of the company's minority holdings in international operators. It off-loaded a 3.2 per cent holding in China Mobile for $4.3bn (£2.7bn) last year and is also set to divest its 25 per cent stake in Polish group Polkomtel.

Mr Colao said last night: "Our board remains committed to realising maximum value from our non-controlled assets. The sale of our stake in SFR, at an attractive multiple, represents a significant further step in the execution of this strategy."

Vodafone said £4bn of the sale's net proceeds would be handed back to shareholders through a share buy-back; the rest would be used to pay down debt. The move would bring the company's existing share buyback scheme to £6.8bn in total. Its holding in SFR contributed £573m to Vodafone's operating profits last year.