Vodafone cool on ambitions for Cegetel
Bluff and counter-bluff
Vodafone Group Plc will use its spare cash for a share buyback if its 13.5bn euro ($13.2bn) offer for French operator Cegetel is not accepted. "Control in France would be good to have at the right price," chief executive Chris Gent said in New York. "It would not be so important or the end of the world is it did not happen."
Gent's apparently lukewarm ambitions for Cegetel may be yet another ruse to persuade cash-starved French media company Vivendi Universal to make a quick decision on selling its 44% holding in the company to Vodafone.
Cegetel's main attraction is that it owns an 80% holding in mobile operator SFR. While Vivendi wants to hang on to the company, it bankers may well insist that selling out to Vodafone is the only way to make a rapid inroad into its debts.
As France is the one gap in Vodafone's European network, SFR is a prime target for the company. However, given recent weakness in its share price on doubts about the prospects of 3G, the world's largest mobile carrier is anxious to avoid a bidding war.