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Vodafone to exit Swisscom next?

In the wake of Vodafone’s £1.35bn exit from the Belgian market, the rumour mill has been grinding away. Speculation suggests that the company is looking to slim down further, possibly by offloading assets in Switzerland and throws more fuel on the fire of the US question.

It is known that Swisscom is keen to buy back Vodafone’s 25 per cent stake in the Swiss operator, a move which could allow the pair to maintain a non-financial partnership.

Dan Bieler, analyst at Ovum commented that such a move would fit with Vodafone’s greater focus on core markets where it has operational control. However, the operator’s position on its 45 per cent US holding is less clear, with the company underlining the long term nature of the existing Vodafone-Verizon relationship. “We still think that at the right price Vodafone might exit the US,” Bieler said.

The deciding factor for Swisscom is likely to centre on the government’s proposed path for the privatisation of Swisscom.

In June, the Swiss upper house of parliament voted against the privatisation of the former telecoms monopoly, with the issue not likely to be reconsidered until the next national elections in 2007.

Swisscom has been at loggerheads with the state since last year when the government decided it would offload its 66.1 per cent holding in Swisscom. The government instructed its representatives on the board to vote against possible foreign acquisitions, instead encouraging its departure result in the distribution of free capital to shareholders. As a result Swisscom is only allowed to make restricted acquisitions abroad.

The operator has repeatedly stated the need for a complete or partial disposal of the government stake as the only viable option for the future development of Swisscom.


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