Altice and Orange chiefs dampen hopes of imminent M&A in France

Orange CEO Stephane Richard and Patrick Drahi, the president and founder of SFR parent Altice, indicated this week that they do not expect to see a further consolidation of the French telecoms markets at least in the near future.

According to Reuters, Richard said he did not see an opportunity for a consolidation of the market in the short term after the failure of the talks with Bouygues Telecom.

However, he also noted that four operators "isn't a sustainable situation" for a country like France.

Drahi, meanwhile, said a consolidation of the country's telecoms market was "not vital" for him, although he noted that "it's vital for those who have 100 per cent of their activities in France."

Drahi also said that although he believed France could support four operators for the moment, whether such a situation could be sustained for the next 10 years is "another question".

The comments from the two leading telecoms executives come two months after efforts to break up Bouygues Telecom ended amid recriminations and an atmosphere of suspicion. The ultimate aim had been for Orange to take over its rival in order to reduce the number of players on the market to three.

The talks were certainly complex. To succeed, the resulting combined entity would have to sell some of its assets to Iliad and SFR. At the time, Bloomberg reported that the more the talks progressed, the clearer it became to those concerned that it would be very difficult to come to a deal that would satisfy all parties. The news agency added that this complexity was further exacerbated by a clash of egos, personal dislikes and political considerations.

Since then, Bouygues Telecom has resumed its previous strategy as a standalone operator while Orange has looked to pastures new in Africa.

Meanwhile Gervais Pellissier, executive director in charge of Orange's European operations and also the company's deputy CEO, said last week that the operator has ruled out any major in-country or cross-border deals for the foreseeable future as a result of the European Commission's hardening stance on such deals.

For more:
- see this Reuters article
- see this separate Reuters article

Related articles:
Orange executive says European MNO consolidation on ice for at least two years
Report: Telefónica favours keeping O2 UK after failed Hutchison sale
Reports: Sky could play key role in future O2 UK, Wind Italy deals
Three is no longer a magic number in EU telecoms
EC blocks proposed O2/Three UK merger; CK Hutchison considers legal challenge