Shares in Cable & Wireless Worldwide jumped almost 45 per cent after Vodafone confirmed that it was interested in bidding for the troubled telecoms group.
The FTSE 100 mobile operator on Monday said it was “in the very early stages of evaluating the merits of a potential offer for C&W Worldwide” but added that there was no certainty of an offer being made.
Vodafone said in its statement that any bid for the company would be in cash. However, people close to both companies said there had been no approach made so far.
Confirmation of Vodafone’s interest pushed up shares in C&W Worldwide to 28.5p, taking the company’s equity value to more than the £700m that had been rumoured as a potential purchase price.
Vodafone’s interest surprised the market on Monday given the troubled financial position of C&W Worldwide, which had been struck by three profit warnings in 12 months after the corporate-focused business was demerged from the consumer side of the Cable & Wireless group in March 2010. The company’s share price lost three-quarters of its value in a year as a result.
The company last reported a pre-tax loss of £433m for the six months to the end of September on the back of asset writedowns, slower than expected sales, competitive pressures and cuts in public sector spending.
Analysts said Vodafone was likely to be interested in C&W Worldwide’s fixed-line network rather than its cash flow, given flat margins and falling earnings, with the acquisition providing potential support for its mobile network as greater numbers of customers use bandwidth-hungry data services.
There could also be interest in C&W Worldwide’s corporate voice, data and hosting services to bolster Vodafone’s own enterprise business. Even so, people within Vodafone cautioned that the interest was preliminary and there was no certainty that there would be an offer made.
Mobile operators want to offload as much of the data traffic as possible to fixed lines. Vodafone is one of BT’s biggest customers, which means there could be cost-savings from the acquisition of its own network.
However, analysts at Citi also highlighted the execution risk given C&W Worldwide’s poor record of operational performance. It said this “might make for a contentious choice for Vittorio Colao’s first material acquisition as chief executive and could require sizeable restructuring capex (capital expenditures) to bring cash returns to an acceptable level”.
Following the most recent loss at C&W Worldwide, John Pluthero, who had sparked controversy after the award of bonuses of more than £10m during his tenure at company left the company less than six months after returning as chief executive.
Gavin Darby, who previously worked at Vodafone, became the company’s third chief executive in as many years. Mr Darby will reveal his initial strategy to return the company to growth again in a trading statement on Thursday, which is expected to include a focus on higher margin business in corporate services.
Analysts also predict a simplification of the company structure, which would be seen as an attempt to make it easier to split and sell parts of its business. Last year, C&W Worldwide turned down an attempt to buy its international arm.
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