Pressure on share price as Vodafone ponders AT&T bid

VODAFONE’S share price has come under renewed pressure amid rumours of an intended bid for AT&T’s mobile giant AT&T Wireless in the United States.

Vodafone’s fate is of interest to thousands of Irish investors, who were given shares after the company bought Eircom’s mobile subsidiary, Eircell, in 2001.

Before the takeover was finalised Vodafone’s shares fell below £2 for the first time in over two years.

News of the proposed US deal has damaged the share price again and it has fallen by over 9% since talk of the deal first surfaced in mid-January.

It gained a modest 1p to 136p in late trading in London yesterday.

The Vodafone bid is believed to be worth €24 billion to AT&T.

But Vodafone chief executive, Arun Sarin, is having difficulty convincing investors the deal makes commercial sense.

Vodafone, the largest mobile-phone company in the world, is still weighing up its options.

Buying AT&T Wireless Services Inc would give Vodafone it control of the third-largest US mobile operator.

Vodafone, which owns 45% of US market leader Verizon Wireless, is also talking with Verizon Communications Inc about a possible exit from that situation.

“It’s not clear to me at this stage that the purchase of AT&T Wireless at a price in excess of $35 billion would actually add shareholder value,” said Bob Parker, deputy chairman of Credit Suisse Asset Management.

An offer would pit Vodafone against BellSouth Corp. and SBC Communications Inc, which have made an informal offer of $11 a share, or about $30 billion.

AT&T Wireless put itself up for sale last month and set a February 13 deadline for bids.

A sale of Vodafone’s Verizon stake, which analysts said may be worth more than $20 billion, could help the company finance an offer for AT&T Wireless and remove potential antitrust concerns.

To counter those concerns, the Vodafone boss is understood to have ordered financial advisers to draw up a draft document to help persuade investors that the acquisition makes commercial sense.

So far analysts say the deal has failed to impress the markets.

After years of weak earnings, investors are becoming more concerned with profits rather than expansion.

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