VODAFONE SELLS £7BN SFR STAKE

FONE

FONE last night agreed to sell its stake in SFR, France’s second-largest mobile operator, to Vivendi for €7.95bn (£7bn) in cash and said it would return £4bn to its shareholders.

The British mobile giant’s 44 per cent stake was valued at €7.75bn and it will receive a final dividend of €200m once the transaction is completed within the next three months.

Vodafone said £4bn of the proceeds would be returned to investors via a share buyback, with the remainder being used to pay down its debt pile.

Sources close to the firm said Vodafone boss Vittorio Colao had extracted a “good price” during negotiations that ran into yesterday evening.

Last month, Vivendi indicated that it would be unwilling to pay anything north of £6bn for the 44 per cent of SFR it does not already own.

The deal implies an enterprise value for SFR of around 6.7 times earnings before interest, taxation, depreciation and amortisation (Ebitda) – higher than the 5.5 times that is the norm for European telecoms companies.

Colao said the decision to sell SFR was in keeping with his strategy of “realising maximum value from [Vodafone’s] non-controlled assets”.

He added: “The sale of our stake in SFR, at an attractive multiple, represents a significant further step in the execution of this strategy.”

Vodafone’s holding in SFR contributed £573m to its adjusted operating profit in the year to 31 March 2010, and £284m in the six months to 30 September 2010.

The pair also hammered out the terms of a new two-year commercial partnership that will enable Vodafone customers to use SFR signal when in France.

Vodafone, which has already sold its minority interests in China and Japan, is now likely to turn its attention to divesting its Polish assets.

Analysts estimate its 24.4 per cent stake in Poland’s Polkomtel could be worth about €1bn.

Meanwhile, Vivendi said it would be able to hike its dividend thanks to the extra profits it will book following completion of the deal.

Last week, Vodafone bought Essar out of its Indian venture for $5bn, in a move that paves the way for an eventual flotation of the firm, according to sources close to Vodafone.