Vodafone, Liberty talks on asset swaps

(Justin Tallis, AFP)
(Justin Tallis, AFP)

London - Vodafone, the world's second-biggest mobile operator, said on Friday it was in talks with cable company Liberty Global regarding an exchange of "selected assets" but was not discussing a full-blown merger, a combination which has been the subject of long-running speculation.

Vodafone has long been linked with a purchase or tie-up with Liberty, Europe's largest cable operator, as fixed and mobile telecom markets and networks converge.

"Vodafone is not in discussions with Liberty Global concerning a combination of the two companies," the company said in a statement responding to media speculation on Friday.

Vodafone did not provide further details on which assets could be involved in the deal.

"There is no certainty that any transaction will be agreed, nor is there certainty with respect to which assets will ultimately be involved," Vodafone said in its statement.

Vodafone's shares were down nearly 1% at 246 pence by 07:39 GMT following the statement, having risen 2% in earlier trade following media reports that the two companies were looking at a merger.

Liberty Global, which has operations in 12 European countries including Britain, Germany and the Netherlands, has a market capitalisation of $46bn, while Vodafone's is £66bn.

When considering possible deals between the two, analysts had suggested they could look at country by country deals such as in Britain, where Vodafone could partner with Liberty's Virgin Media.

Vodafone, which has 446 million mobile customers in countries ranging from Albania to Ireland, Qatar, India, South Africa and New Zealand, has lost ground to some rivals in an industry-wide trend to offer broadband internet, TV, home phone and mobile services in one bundled product, known as quad-play.

It has already bought fixed line and cable networks in Spain, Germany and Britain, with the higher-capacity network also helping to carry its mobile traffic.

For its part, Liberty has started to move towards mobile, recently buying an operator in Belgium, in a change of strategy after previously saying it did not need to own its own mobile operations, preferring instead to buy wholesale capacity from network operators, such as EE in the UK.

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