Speaking in Davos, Liberty Global (LBTYA -0.8%) CEO Mike Fries says the company's joint deal with Vodafone (VOD -1%) in the Netherlands isn't a blueprint for deals in other nations that the two share a presence.
The deal's going well ("It's only been three weeks, but I will tell you we're encouraged") and hasn't quieted analyst and investor talk about a broader tie-up (a possibility that was rejected when the two passed up an asset swap in 2015), but Fries says "I don't see us doing those types of structural transactions in other markets."
Fries says Liberty does believe in "fixed/mobile convergence" and that it expects to be one of the two players remaining in each of its European markets when the dust settles.
With the new year, Liberty Global (LBTYA +1.1%) and Vodafone (VOD +1.7%) have completed the joint venture they planned to create in the Netherlands, establishing a new converged communications firm.
The venture -- to be called VodafoneZiggo Group -- combines Liberty's Ziggo fiber-rich broadband with Vodafone's top mobile operation into a firm with combined revenue of more than €4B. The venture will sell services under both the Vodafone and Ziggo brands.
After closing and following recapitalization, Liberty Global will receive €2.2B and Vodafone €0.6B in cash.
Once Vodafone's divestment of its fixed business Vodafone Thuis is accounted for, net present value of synergies for the deal is estimated around €3.5B. Vodafone Thuis had been generating negative cash flow (-€73M in the 12 months ended September 2016).
Acquisitive Dutch media/telecom firm Altice (OTCPK:ATCEY) is unloading assets for the first time it wasn't forced to do so by regulators.
The company is selling its Belgium and Luxembourg businesses to Telenet Group, a Belgian arm of Liberty Global (NASDAQ:LBTYA), in a $417M deal.
That comes after Liberty Global's $1.4B deal for Belgium wireless firm Base, which cut Altice off from getting a major foothold there, and it pushes Altice to focus on its building U.S. business (with deals for Suddenlink and Cablevision, and an aborted run at Time Warner Cable).
Despite that, many analysts say the reasoning behind getting the two together is still there. And Colao says incumbent telecoms are still powerful.
"They see that in each country there is a KPN, a Telecom Italia, a Deutsche Telekom, a BT, that are at the end of the day still incredibly, I would not want to use the word dominant, but let's say influential. And you want a counter force, and we could be that counter force," he said.
The company will meet with the European Commission on March 7, along with rivals Sky (OTCQX:SKYAY +2.4%), Virgin Media (LBTYA +2.8%), TalkTalk (OTC:TKTCY), Vodafone (VOD +3.1%) and BT Group (BT +3.4%). Iliad (OTCPK:ILIAY +2.5%), the small provider owned by French billionaire Xavier Niel, could also take part.
The long-in-the-works deal has generated plenty of heat, as the combination of Hutchison's Three UK (the country's No. 4 wireless provider) with Telefonica's O2 (the No. 2 provider) would create the country's largest, reducing the market to three major competitors.
When the EC opened a full probe into the deal in October, the move suggested that heavy concessions were likely on the way to make the deal happen -- and they may include creating a smaller competitor. (TalkTalk has said it would love to help.)
The UK tried to take over the probe, but the EC rejected that request and kept control of the deal investigation in early December.
Liberty Global (NASDAQ:LBTYA) and Vodafone (NASDAQ:VOD) are merging Dutch operations in a joint venture, in a bit of an appetizer before what could be a broader combination of operations in the future.
It's a big appetizer, though -- the 50/50 venture is valued at more than €19B -- and the companies said discussions around the Netherlands venture haven't ranged into any other areas.
The venture will sell mobile and cable under both companies' brands (Ziggo and Vodafone), and Vodafone will pay €1B as part of the deal to equalize their ownership.
It will have more than 15M revenue-generating units, and the companies expect after the deal closes later this year that they'll see cost and revenue synergies of €3.5B (and €350M in integration costs).
The EU is set to approve the €1.3B takeover of KPN's (OTCPK:KKPNY -2.2%) Belgian telecom unit by Liberty Global (LBTYA -2.8%), after some divestments to clear the deal, Reuters reports.
The approval would mean the first telecom merger OK'd by Margrethe Vestager, the European Competition Commissioner, since the EC squashed TeliaSonera and Telenor's plan to merge their Danish units.
Liberty's Telenet unit has been pursuing KPN's Base over the past year. The combination would be slightly behind market leader Proximus and comparable in size to Mobistar (controlled by Orange).
To facilitate the deal, Telenet will sell all the customers from Base's JIM Mobile brand to rival Medialaan, along with its 50% stake in another brand (Mobile Viking) -- with the longer-term picture showing Medialaan as an MVNO on the Base network.
Telefonica (TEF -3.5%) is expressing interest in buying Latin American assets from AT&T (T -0.9%) that could come to $10B in value, Reuters reports.
AT&T acquired the pay TV assets in its acquisition of DirecTV last year, and CEO Randall Stephenson said in December that the company would consider selling them but was in "no rush" and would be patient.
A source told Reuters that other parties were interested in specific country assets -- AT&T acquired services in Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela and Argentina among other countries -- so AT&T could run multiple sale processes and deal with a company like Liberty Global (LBTYA -4.7%).
Meanwhile, Telefonica has been making portfolio changes but against some €50B in debt (about $54B). It's looking to sell Spanish infrastructure and agreed to sell its O2 business in the UK to CK Hutchison holdings for $15B.
Vodafone (NASDAQ:VOD) is up 1.5% in early going, and Liberty Global (NASDAQ:LBTYA) up 2.8%, after the Daily Mail covered chatter about a large tie-up to come early in the new year.
"Apparently corporate financiers have been working long hours over the festive period" on a potential £140B merger between the two, Geoff Foster writes -- though a much discussed asset swap is still more likely, and all talks fizzled out a few months back.
Dealers are saying that Liberty's John Malone is pursuing new talks and the companies are getting favorable nods from major investors for a friendly deal, Foster says.
“We’re not motivated by building empires,” Fries says. “We’re motivated by creating value.”
Yet as empire-building goes, the company is taking on Caribbean-focused Cable & Wireless (OTCPK:CWIXF) for $8B (including debt), one of well over a dozen $1B-plus acquisitions the company has completed over the past 20 years, with an accumulation of debt to go with that.
Its equation could have changed entirely with talks over a massive combination with Vodafone (NASDAQ:VOD) -- before they turned into talks over an asset swap and ultimately fizzled. "We never say never," says Fries, "but there is nothing happening at the moment."
And while John Malone (who holds 24% of voting rights) is known for big dealings, Fries says he leaves the company to pursue its course: “I’ve been chief executive for 10 years and everything we’ve done has been self-created. We have the benefit of [Malone’s] strategic insight and guidance but he is not a puppeteer.”
Liberty Global (LBTYA -1.7%) agrees to acquire Caribbean cable operator Cable & Wireless Communications (OTCPK:CWIXF +26.8%) in a cash and stock deal valued at $5.3B, extending John Malone’s European cable empire deeper into Latin America.
The stock offer is valued at 78.04 pence/share, a 6% premium to Cable & Wireless's Monday closing price of 73.54 pence in London; including a special dividend to be paid when the deal closes, total consideration comes to 81.04 pence/share, which Liberty Global says represents a 40% premium to Cable & Wireless' closing share price on Oct. 21, the day reports stated the companies were in talks.
The purchase would give Malone a critical mass in Latin America, where he created the LiLAC (LILAK +2.2%) tracking stock in July for Liberty Global’s assets in Chile and Puerto Rico.
Private-equity firms are lining up bids for Deutsche Telekom's (OTCQX:DTEGY +1.2%) unit in the Netherlands, with Apax and CVC getting close to final offers, Reuters reports.
Bain Capital and Providence are also expected to get involved. The division could be valued at up to €3B.
P-E firms may have the inside line on bidding; Xavier Niel's Iliad (OTCPK:ILIAY) or Liberty Global (NASDAQ:LBTYA) could get involved, though Liberty already competes in the Netherlands with its Ziggo unit and is currently pursuing a purchase of Belgium's Base.
DT's operation is behind competitors KPN and Vodafone in the Dutch market.