Vodafone starts clock ticking on Mannesmann bid

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The Independent Online
VODAFONE AIRTOUCH raised the pressure on Mannesmann last night when it set 7 February as the closing date for its hostile pounds 85bn bid, and said the offer was no longer conditional on European Commission clearance.

Sources said the move to make the offer unconditional upon clearance reflected confidence that the Brussels authorities would approve the takeover after a phase one hearing. Vodafone is expected to file an application with Brussels early in January. The competition authorities would rule within four to six weeks.

Should the takeover offer be accepted by Mannesmann, Vodafone would demerge mobile phone group Orange. When Vodafone bought AirTouch of the US in January, it received regulatory approval after placing its stake in E- Plus, a German mobile operator, in a trust before its later sale to KPN, the Dutch telecoms company.

Vodafone will publish its formal offer Thursday and start the clock ticking for the takeover battle's decisive round on Friday.

Sources described the offer document for the German telecoms group as "monstrous" in size and legal complexity. "The advice we've had is that we do not believe there will be major competitive problems other than [Mannesmann's acquisition of British mobile group] Orange," a Vodafone spokesman said. "We have agreed that we will demerge Orange and believe this will be enough to satisfy the Commission."

The Anglo-American mobile giant has settled on a 45-day period for the bid battle. Under German law, takeover bids can run for a minimum of 28 days and a maximum of 60 days. "We have set our timetable to bring our offer to a rapid conclusion so that we can move quickly to take full advantage of the opportunities available to the new group," said Chris Gent, chief executive of Vodafone.

Vodafone is to hold an extra-ordinary meeting 24 January to seek approval for both the proposed Mannesmann offer and the formation of the new US mobile venture with Bell Atlantic.

Mannesmann yesterday repeated its rejection of Vodafone's bid. "It is a matter of extreme regret that Vodafone insists on pursuing this hostile route," Mannesmann said.

Vodafone stock fell 10.25p to 301p, valuing its all-share offer at 257 euros a share. Mannesmann hit a peak of 239 euros yesterday before closing up 1.25 euros on the day at 235.5.