Vodafone sells Swiss mobile stake for £1.8bn

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Vodafone has further slimmed down in Europe by selling its 25 per cent stake in the operator Swisscom Mobile.

The disposal follows the company's recent exit from Belgium and comes a year after the company shocked investors by backing out of the Swedish market.

The Swiss sale has raised £1.8bn to be used to reduce debt or possibly to make further acquisitions in emerging markets. Vodafone sold its stake to Swisscom, which already held 75 per cent of Swisscom Mobile and was keen to get full control of the mobile unit to better align it with its fixed-line activities.

Vodafone bought the stake in 2001 for £1.8bn. The valuation of European telecoms assets has plummeted since then, though a Vodafone spokesman said the company had benefited from dividends of around £700m from the Swiss unit. Vodafone will maintain a presence in Switzerland through a five-year partnership agreement with Swisscom.

The Swiss exit had been anticipated for some time after the company sold its 25 per cent stake in the Belgian operator Proximus to the majority owner Belgacom this year. The similarity of the two assets suggested that Vodafone would do the same in Switzerland. The sale price was higher than some analysts had expected although the disposal has no impact on its profits.

Exane BNP Paribas said the deal raised questions about the company's commitment to other minority stakes, such as in the US operator Verizon Wireless and the French carrier SFR. The company has not yet shown any appetite to exit those markets.

Vodafone also has minority stakes in China and India and is looking for further acquisitions to boost its exposure to high-growth emerging markets. Citigroup analyst Terence Sinclair said Vodafone could use the Swiss proceeds to fund expansion in Africa. It has just upped its stake in Egypt.

Yet for now Vodafone says it will use the proceeds to reduce debt. UBS analyst David Brundish said that the sale is likely to reduce its net debt to around £17bn by the end of its financial year, implying that it could have additional capacity to return cash to shareholders.