Vodafone investors cheer possible offer

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Leading Vodafone investors on Thursday night reacted positively to the possibility of a $13.5bn offer by the group for Hutchison Essar, India’s fourth largest mobile operator.

Investors said an offer would be consistent with Vodafone’s aim of fuelling revenue growth by increasing its presence in emerging markets.

Vodafone’s board was on Thursday night believed to have decided to press ahead with an offer. Vodafone, the world’s biggest mobile operator by revenue, declined to comment.

Some analysts expressed concern that Vodafone could overpay for Hutchison Essar because of the prospect of a bidding war between it and Reliance Communications, India’s second largest mobile operator.

Vodafone executives have been planning to table an offer today in person to Canning Fok, managing director of Hutchison Whampoa, and Ravi Ruia, vice-chairman of Essar, who are both scheduled to be in London.

Hutchison Whampoa holds a 67 per cent stake in Hutchison Essar through Hutchison Telecommunications International, a subsidiary. Hutchison Whampoa declined to comment. However, people familiar with the conglomerate said a $13.5bn offer would be regarded as low and unlikely to result in a deal.

Vodafone’s relations with investors have been through a troubled period since the group warned of slowing revenue growth. Relations were also strained because of concerns that Vodafone paid too much for assets such as Telsim, Turkey’s second largest mobile operator.

However, leading Vodafone investors on Thursday said they were willing to look at the case for buying Hutchison Essar.

“Prima facie, this acquisition would put the group in a stronger position,” said one shareholder.

Vodafone’s advisers contacted some investors to tell them any offer would have to be consistent with financial criteria for deals that it published at its 2005-06 results in May.

Another shareholder said: “The market is more prepared to look positively on the group now. Shareholders will give Vodafone the benefit of the doubt.”

Vodafone’s shares on Thursday closed down 2.25p, or 1.5 per cent, at 143.75p, after the Financial Times disclosed it was considering an offer for Hutchison Essar.

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