June 19, 2007 3:00 am

AT&T's new chief rules out bid for Vodafone

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AT&T is playing down the prospect that it could buy one of Europe's leading telecoms groups but is planning an aggressive push for growth by serving the needs of multinationals across the globe, according to its new chief executive.

AT&T's stance will intensify its battle against BT and Verizon of the US, which are the other leading providers of telecoms and information technology services to multinationals.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Randall Stephenson, AT&T's chief executive since June 3, dismissed speculation that the world's largest telecoms company by market capitalisation was planning a bid for Vodafone, the mobile phone group. "We're not mulling an offer," he said. He made it clear that it was unlikely AT&T would seek to buy former European telecoms monopolies, and described its aborted interest in Telecom Italia as "opportunistic".

Mr Stephenson signalled more large domestic acquisitions by AT&T were unlikely after three big deals in three years. But he said AT&T was likely to make smaller acquisitions to enhance its ability to meet the voice and data needs of multinationals. "I believe international is a huge opportunity for AT&T," he said.

AT&T generated more than $10bn (£5.04bn) of revenue from multinationals in 2006 if the results of BellSouth, a smaller US telecoms company bought last year, are included. It is seeking contracts with multinationals that have headquarters outside as well as inside the US.

The focus is on any multinationals that direct significant volumes of phone calls and data traffic to the US.

Mr Stephenson said AT&T looked at Telecom Italia in April because of its fixed-line phone and mobile assets, but added it "probably does not make sense" to own former European telecoms monopolies.

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