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Vodafone attracts unsolicited interest in key Spanish unit

Vodafone Group’s Spanish business is attracting takeover interest from potential buyers, people with knowledge of the matter said.

The British telecommunications group has been contacted by private equity and strategic suitors, according to the people. While it’s not running a formal sale process for the unit, Vodafone would consider offers at the right price, they said.

Vodafone’s Spanish unit could be valued at more than US$4-billion (R72-billion), the people said, asking not to be identified discussing confidential information.

Deliberations are ongoing and there’s no certainty they’ll result in a sale of the Spanish operations. A representative for Vodafone declined to comment.

Vodafone’s business in Spain has been shrinking in the face of competition from incumbent carrier Telefónica, France’s Orange and private equity-backed Masmovil Ibercom. From 2018 to 2022, its revenue generated in the country fell 16% to about €4.2-billion (R83-billion).

Nick Read, Vodafone’s former CEO, sought a merger in Spain last year, only to miss out when Orange and Masmovil agreed to combine there. Read left at the end of 2022 and interim CEO Margherita Della Valle has since relegated Spain from one of Vodafone’s main markets, folding it into a group of smaller units such as Ireland and Greece. Colman Deegan departed as Vodafone’s CEO in Spain in March.

Newbury, England-based Vodafone has been under pressure to simplify its business and pursue deals to unlock value for investors and revive a flagging share price that’s fallen almost 60% over the last five years.

Vodafone has been largely frustrated in these efforts. While it’s managed to sell smaller units in countries like Hungary and a stake in its mast unit, Vantage Towers, it’s struggled with transactions in larger markets.

As well as missing out on a Spain deal, Vodafone last year rebuffed an offer from French telecoms billionaire Xavier Niel for its Italian unit. Months-long talks about a British merger with Three UK, meanwhile, have yet to close.

Strategic investors and some-time rivals Niel, Emirates Telecommunications Group Company and Liberty Global have bought up more than a fifth of Vodafone in the last year, raising questions about how they might influence strategy at the British group. Tech Central

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