Vodafone rises on report of AT&T takeover interest

LONDON Fri Nov 1, 2013 8:03am EDT

A pedestrian passes a Vodafone store on Oxford Street in central London, November 10, 2009. REUTERS/Kevin Coombs

A pedestrian passes a Vodafone store on Oxford Street in central London, November 10, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Kevin Coombs

LONDON (Reuters) - Shares in Vodafone Group rose on Friday after a media report that U.S. mobile operator AT&T was exploring strategies for a potential takeover of the British telecoms firm.

AT&T Chief Executive Randall Stephenson has said there is a "huge opportunity" to invest in mobile broadband in Europe and he would buy wireless assets if they were available at the right price.

AT&T is the second-largest mobile provider in the United States after Verizon Wireless. But it is not adding new customers in its home market as fast as Verizon, and it is also ceding market share to much smaller rival T-Mobile US.

Vodafone sold its stake in Verizon Wireless to its joint venture partner Verizon Communications Inc for $130 billion in September, leaving it with a pan-European business spanning Britain to Romania and operations in the Middle East and Africa.

AT&T has been eyeing Europe since the beginning of the year and has considered options including Vodafone and Britain's largest mobile carrier EE, a joint venture of Orange and Deutsche Telekom, sector bankers have previously told Reuters.

A Bloomberg report on Thursday, citing people familiar with the situation, said AT&T was examining how it could divide Vodafone up after a deal, keeping some assets and disposing of others. The companies have not entered formal negotiations, the report said.

Shares in Vodafone were up 2.9 percent to 231 pence at 1104 GMT, the biggest gainers on the FTSE 100 index of blue-chip stocks.

Espirito Santo analyst Robert Grindle said it was logical for AT&T to consider its options regarding Vodafone, following its U.S. exit.

"What we don't have full clarity on is how ambitious AT&T is," he said. "(The report) is short on substance but long on plausibility."

Vodafone and AT&T declined to comment.

(Reporting by Paul Sandle and Sarah Young; Editing by Erica Billingham)

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