Vodafone chief Colao says happy with Verizon stake

Tue May 21, 2013 1:48pm EDT
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By Kate Holton and Paul Sandle

LONDON (Reuters) - Vodafone boss Vittorio Colao staked his reputation on selling the group's prized stake in U.S. operator Verizon Wireless at the right time and right price, saying on Tuesday he would not bow to pressure to do any deal.

Contemplating what could be the world's third-largest ever corporate deal, Colao and his number two Andy Halford said they were happy holders of the 45 percent stake, following increasing demands from majority owner Verizon Communications Inc for a sale.

That would only change, they said, when they received an offer which was preferable to the existing structure, in terms of dividends received and tax paid.

Verizon is working on a $100 billion offer, seen as an opening gambit by investors, two people close to the situation have told Reuters - a deal which would rank behind only Vodafone's purchase of Mannesmann and Time Warner's AOL buy.

"I'm paid to have a weight on my shoulders," the Italian chief executive said after publishing full-year results that showed the scale of the pressures on the rest of the company.

"We are in a very comfortable situation, we have an ownership of an asset that delivers a pretty important amount of value to our shareholders, which also has liquidity, and is in a country which has a fantastic market structure, with a company that is the leader."

"It is a pretty good position to be in," Colao told reporters. "(But) if an offer comes that is more advantageous than the current situation, then of course we will look at it."

Colao, a 51-year-old former partner at consultancy McKinsey who has won plaudits from investors for selling assets at the right time in his almost five years as CEO, noted he had a good record when it came to selling out of different countries.   Continued...

The Vodafone logo is seen at the counter of the shop in Prague February 7, 2012. REUTERS/David W Cerny