Some of the biggest shareholders in Vodafone indicated they might favour a deal with John Marlone’s Liberty Global, as the UK company appears to be in a stronger position to strike a deal with the cable group.
A Reuters report found support among Vodafone investors, following John Malone’s comments last week stating that it would be a “great fit” for the cable group.
Speculation surrounding a potential tie-up has persisted since last year, but any talk of the deal has sent Vodafone shares tumbling, on the assumption that it would overpay for Liberty’s assets as the acquiring company.
The fundamentals behind a potential deal have now shifted after Malone indicated that a union between the two companies would be more equal in terms of asset sharing, some shareholders believe.
An unnamed shareholder told Reuters that “the market assumption had been that Vodafone was coming from a position of weakness”, until last week.
The source added that there is now “strategic rationale to the combination of the assets”.
If a tie-up surfaces, Vodafone will be looking to leverage Liberty Global’s cable network after losing ground to rivals in offering quadplay services.
It has already made strategic cable acquisitions in Spain and Germany, but a deal with Liberty Global will put both companies in a better position across Europe.
Liberty Global, meanwhile, recently acquired a mobile player in Belgium in a move that indicated a change in strategy from renting capacity from bigger rivals in the continent.
Malone said last week that a combination between both businesses could lead to “very substantial synergies in Europe”, which led to speculation that Vodafone could even demerge its emerging market interests to focus on Europe.
However, it is thought that investors do not want to be in a position where Vodafone is pressurised to sell its assets in Africa, Middle East and Asia too cheaply.
Liberty Global and Vodafone have market capitalisation of approximately $49 billion and $67.3 billion respectively, and a tie-up up could generate gross synergies of around $24 billion.