As AT&T retreats from Europe for now, Carlos Slim said to plot Austria move: report

AT&T may have put its plans to invest in a major European operator on hold for the time being, but another industry heavyweight from across the pond is reportedly stepping up efforts to buy a majority stake in a company that itself has demonstrated an aggressive expansion strategy over the years.

Speculation that Carlos Slim's América Móvil will buy a majority stake in Telekom Austria refuses to die, and a report from Reuters suggests that the Mexican giant could make its move this year.

It has been no secret that Slim is interested in gaining control of a European operator, although recent efforts to transform his minority stake in KPN into a majority position failed following fierce resistance from an independent Dutch foundation.

Slim now owns 26.8 per cent of Telekom Austria after buying a 3.14 per cent stake from a family foundation, which Reuters noted is enough to veto big decisions at the Austrian group but below the 30-per cent mandatory takeover offer threshold.

"I expect Slim to make an offer for the majority of the company sooner or later," unidentified sources told Reuters. "It could be in two weeks or six months."

Fresh from his experiences in the Netherlands, Slim is keen to avoid a similar scenario in Austria by reaching agreement with the country's new government first, the report adds.

América Móvil said in November it is not planning a hostile takeover bid for Telekom Austria and sees itself as a long-term partner for the Austrian operator.

Telekom Austria has not commented on Slilm's potential plans: CEO Hannes Ametsreiter told Reuters he has no information on the matter, although he added that the two companies "have a very good relationship. It's been like that from the start".

Like AT&T, which recently ruled out making a bid for Vodafone within the next six months, Slim sees huge potential in Europe's growing mobile broadband market as LTE rollouts proliferate across the Continent. Telekom Austria also operates a small telecoms empire in Central and Eastern Europe, with companies in Bulgaria, Croatia, Belarus, Slovenia, Serbia, Macedonia and Liechtenstein, and is believed to be interested in buying up more cable assets as part of its convergence strategy.

At the same time, Telekom Austria is struggling in one of Europe's most competitive markets, which was also recently hit by an extremely expensive spectrum auction.

It has not been ruled out that Slim may make another attempt to buy KPN, while Telecom Italia, also a target of Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris, could also present a further interesting option, Reuters reported.

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

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América Móvil: We have no plans for a hostile takeover of Telekom Austria
Austrian operators slam high price of LTE spectrum
KPN expects Carlos Slim to keep stake in Dutch group