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TMCNet:  Daily Mail, London, Alex Brummer column

[January 09, 2013]

Daily Mail, London, Alex Brummer column

Jan 09, 2013 (Daily Mail - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- The shadow boxing between Vodafone and US telecoms giant Verizon Communications over the future of their joint interest in America's fast growing mobile network, Verizon Wireless, looks as if it is reaching an endgame.



The new boss of Verizon Communications Lowell McAdam is making it publicly clear that it would like to gain control over Vodafone's 45pc stake in the mobile offshoot.

Ideally McAdam would like to reach a friendly accommodation with Vodafone chief executive Vittorio Colao. But there are increasing signs that if a peaceable deal between the two companies cannot be reached Verizon might be prepared to make an open offer for the Vodafone stake.

For a long time it looked as if the best solution for Vodafone and Verizon would be a full scale merger with Colao taking on the chair at the enlarged enterprise.

But in recent times the relative strength of the two companies has changed. Vodafone is being held back by the eurozone crisis that has contributed to stunted growth. Its investment in fast growth markets such as Turkey and Ghana has been a huge success.

But India has been more complicated with margins under some pressure and the Indian authorities pursuing the company over alleged unpaid taxes.

The passage of time has seen Verizon Wireless rise from a bit player in the US cellular phone market to the leader as it aggressively invested in increasing the range and flexibility of the network. It has received a huge uplift from the switch towards data communication most notably on the iPhone, iPad and other tablets.

McAdam expects this exponential growth to continue although it may involve putting in ever more investment that could potentially impact on Vodafone's stream of dividend income. Last year almost half the British firm's income came from the Verizon Wireless dividend.

The concern on the Vodafone board and among investors will be that Vodafone could find itself in a similar situation to Rank Xerox in the past when the investment in an US asset became more valuable than the core company and all the shots are called overseas with little UK input.

In some respects the current valuation of the Verizon Wireless stake, put at pounds sterling 50bn or more, is a vindication for Colao and his predecessor Arun Sarin who resisted pressure from shareholders to shed the minority stake, pay off debts and give cash back to investors.

It may be time for that to happen, giving Vodafone the resources both to reward shareholders (including this writer) and aggressively to pursue its emerging market strategy. Allowing the company to be at the mercy of American owners no longer looks very attractive.

THE European Investment Bank is one of the European Union's more successful institutions picking commercial winners across the region.

At a time when Britain has struggled to funnel cash into industrial development and infrastructure the EIB has helped fill that gap, investing pounds sterling 2.95bn in the UK during the past year.

But the taxpayer has the right to ask whether Britain is getting value for money. With barely a voice being raised Britain has just coughed up pounds sterling 1.3bn as part of a big capital increase in the bank.

So why is this happening now All the evidence suggests that while the UK, as one of the biggest shareholders, will be able to draw on its resources, most of the money will end up - as in the last five years - on the European periphery. Indeed, EIB money has been counted in some of the euroland rescue packages.

If the Government were really inventive and serious about growth it would have given this refunding a miss and used the new capital to fund a British Investment Bank capable of making sure there is venture capital available for the new technology coming out of our research based universities.

Putting money into Greece and Spain at this juncture does not look like money well spent.

WE have still to hear from Centrica, the owners of British Gas, on exactly why executive director Phil Bentley may be heading for the door. All the indications are, however, that he is the loser in a power struggle.

As the executive responsible for the larger part of the group's profits Bentley looks to have regarded himself as the ideal candidate to succeed Sam Laidlaw, the current boss.

Laidlaw, after a good stint at Centrica that has seen it focus on energy exploration, storage and security of supply would like to step back in the next 18 months or so.

That will leave chairman Sir Roger Carr with the unenviable task of looking for new British Gas and Centrica chiefs at the same time.

___ (c)2013 Daily Mail (London, ) Visit the Daily Mail (London, ) at www.dailymail.co.uk/home/index.html Distributed by MCT Information Services

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