Vodafone and AirTouch bosses meet

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The Independent Online
SENIOR VODAFONE executives are scheduled to meet counterparts from AirTouch today for their first face-to-face encounter since the UK mobile phone giant proposed a $55bn (pounds 33m) takeover of its US rival, writes Peter Thal Larsen.

The meeting will take place amid rampant speculation that Bell Atlantic, the acquisitive Baby Bell, is poised to raise its offer for AirTouch. Bell Atlantic has reportedly tabled a bid valuing AirTouch, the world's largest mobile phone group, at $45bn. But this was beaten by an all-share offer from Vodafone believed to value the company at more than $90 a share.

Ken Hydon, Vodafone finance director, is understood to have flown to the US last night with a team from Goldman Sachs, the group's financial advisers. Chris Gent, the chief executive, is thought to be following the negotiations from New Zealand where he is attending a board meeting.

Shares in AirTouch jumped a further $2.50 to $79.75 in early trading yesterday. In London, Vodafone dipped 21.5p to 1,089p although other telecoms stocks, including Cable & Wireless and Orange, posted strong gains.

Analysts believe that other US telecoms groups could enter the bidding.