Report: Shareholders urge Vodafone to offload networks, embrace Liberty Global merger

Vodafone should sell off networks in its more far-flung markets such as India, Turkey and South Africa to support a £120 billion (€169 billion/$186 billion) merger of its European business with Liberty Global, according to some of the UK-based company's biggest shareholders.

The shareholders told the Sunday Telegraph that they would support a plan to sell networks outside Vodafone's core European base to enable a deal with the media group to take place. The paper added that some analysts have valued the non-European business at £30 billion.

"We're very open to the combination and being open probably means selling off Africa, the Middle East and Asia-Pacific," one shareholder told the Sunday Telegraph. "It's in the interests of both sets of shareholders to do the deal."

Liberty Global chairman John Malone fuelled the debate over a possible merger with Vodafone last week, after he described a tie-up between the European cable giant and the mobile operator as a "great fit".

Speculation that Vodafone and Liberty Global could merge is certainly nothing new. Although obstacles exist, such a move would align with the strategy of both companies to offer quad-play plans combining fixed and mobile services.

Vodafone is understood to be particularly interested in Virgin Media in the UK, where the operator faces being sidelined as a result of a planned merger of Three UK and O2 UK, and BT's planned acquisition of EE.

Although there are no active discussions between Vodafone and Liberty, Malone's comments are seen as significant because previous overtures have come from the mobile operator.

Vodafone has so far not commented on the chairman's remarks, although CEO Vittorio Colao indicated last week that the mobile operator would consider "things that make sense, whether it's Liberty or Hellas Online or whatever."

Analysts from Jefferies International have long argued that a merger with Liberty Global would make sense.

"If more lukewarm prior statements by Liberty Global had cast undue doubt over the merger scenario, we think these latest statements should remove it," the analysts said.

For more:
- see this Sunday Telegraph article

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