Telecom Italia is a predator, not a prey, when it comes to European consolidation, according to Xavier Niel (pictured), the French businessman who could potentially become its second largest stakeholder.
Niel emerged as a surprise investor in Telecom Italia in October, and holds options on a 15 per cent stake in the company.
Speaking to Italian daily La Stampa, where he publically talked about his role at the company for the first time, he said he wanted to be more “active” within the Italian group, while stating he was an industrial investor, and not a financial raider.
He however declined to comment on whether he would convert his options into shares, which would put him just behind Vivendi, the company’s largest shareholder with 20.5 per cent.
And despite being linked to a potential takeover for years, Niel believes Telecom Italia has “all it takes” to turn the tables and become a consolidator in Europe’s telecom market.
“It seems to me there is a widespread opinion that it should be a target… but I really don’t think that,” he said.
Telecom Italia has consistently been linked to a merger with France’s Orange over the years, speculation which has been denied by both companies.
Niel said he did not know whether Orange was actually interested in the company, but noted there is an opportunity as Telecom Italia does not have operations beyond its home market and Brazil, describing the company as a “fantastic operator” with reasonably good management.
He also conceded that the company had some weaknesses, and he has “some ideas” to address them.
“You need to give Telecom Italia the capacity to invest to grow both in fibre optic and 4G mobile networks so that it can generate higher revenues but still keep tariffs low.”
Regarding Vivendi, which this week exerted more influence over the Italian group by appointing four of its executives to the company’s board, Niel said he would judge the situation based on what it does next.
Meanwhile, Italy’s state lender Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (CDP) reportedly has not ruled out investing in Telecom Italia, on the condition that talks between the operator and local fibre operator Metroweb are successful.
The two companies restarted negotiations over a joint nationwide network rollout in October, after the country’s prime minister pledged a €7 billion investment on a national project of building a fibre network.
CDP chairman Claudio Costamagna said if the talks lead to a rollout, it could mean its interests “moves on shareholder structure”, but did not clarify whether this means CDP would take a stake in Telecom Italia, reports Reuters.