Rumour Mill: Vodafone Australia is being shopped to buyers

Vodafone Australia is being offered to prospective buyers in Asia and Europe by its joint owners Vodafone and Hutchison Whampoa, according to a report in The Australian, which cited unnamed sources.

While both companies have strongly denied any such move is underway, the report claims that preliminary information on Vodafone Australia has been circulated to test the market reaction for a potential sale. The report suggested that sovereign wealth funds in Asia and the Middle East have  been sent initial sale documents, along with telcos Qtel, Etisalat, Korea Telecom and NTT DoCoMo. China Telecom is also named as a potential--albeit controversial-buyer.

"Vodafone remains fully committed to our operations in Australia and our sole focus is on the turnaround of the business," a Vodafone Group spokesman told the newspaper.

However, Vodafone Australia has been struggling to make headway over the last 18 months following a series of high-profile network breakdowns, profit warnings and falling subscriber numbers. The  joint venture lost A$336 million (€270 million) in 2011 and saw 554,000 subscribers move to rivals--taking its total customer base down to 7 million--as ongoing network problems and customer confidentiality breaches hurt the company's reputation.

"All the problems Vodafone Australia has experienced over the last 18 months have tested its parent companies' patience and we know that Vodafone Group has sold struggling operations in the past, so you can't entirely rule out a sale," an unnamed analyst told The Australian.

Albeit that Vodafone Australia has recently ploughed €803 million into network upgrades, some industry observers believe the operator will continue to report losses for the next two years as forthcoming spectrum auctions and interest charges impact the bottom line.

For more:
- see this The Australian article (sub. req.)

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