Vodafone tones down its US commitment

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Vodafone on Tuesday sought to allay shareholder concerns over its strategy as it toned down its commitment to the US and insisted it was listening to their concerns.

Arun Sarin, the chief executive who has become the focus of investor ire, said the group’s strategy was working but that the board would consider changes as Vodafone seeks to adapt to an increasingly competitive environment. “I am doing my job to the best of my ability, my board is fully supportive of me,” he said.

His comments came as Morley Fund Management, the sixth-largest shareholder, became the second investor to publicly express concern about strategy. “We share the concerns of many other shareholders and are looking closely at the situation,” the fund manager told the FT. On Monday Standard Life called on Vodafone to sell out of the US.

Some of the mobile operator’s biggest shareholders are demanding that it limit its global ambitions and pull out of the US market, where it owns 45 per cent of Verizon Wireless. A sale to the controlling shareholder, Verizon Communications, which has made it clear it wants to buy out its UK-based partner, could raise £25bn-£30bn ($44.7bn-$53.6bn).

The continued commitment to the troubled Japanese business is also a bone of contention. Investors fear Vodafone’s global ambitions means it is not focusing enough on its core markets in Europe, where fierce competition is hitting revenue growth and margins.

Mr Sarin said: “We have listened to [shareholder] views . . . Vodafone continues to execute its strategic plan but equally we remain flexible and pragmatic as [to] how we respond to the changing market place.”

Vodafone’s chief hinted for the first time that the board might consider selling out of the US but defended the investment both in terms of strategy and valuation.

Mr Sarin estimated the value of Verizon Wireless’s stake had risen by $20bn over the last two years. Although synergies are limited because of lack of control and the fact the US network uses a different technology to the rest of Vodafone’s operations, Mr Sarin insisted it still had value for his larger corporate customers and in terms of product development and the purchasing of content.

“Up until now the board has chosen to keep the asset and I have to say that is absolutely the right decision from a shareholders point of view,” adding: “That is not to say the board won’t change its mind as it looks forward.”

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