Liberty Global sees no Brexit fallout on Vodafone deal

WARSAW (Reuters) - Liberty Global LBTYA.O, the world's largest cable operator, does not expect Brexit to derail its Dutch joint venture with Vodafone VOD.L and is keeping an eye out for more takeovers in Europe, its chief executive said on Tuesday.

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Speaking to Reuters on the sidelines of the Cable Congress, Chief Executive Mike Fries - an industry veteran and after-hours lead singer in a rock band - said he expected EU regulators to approve the tie-up, and that going forward Liberty would prefer takeovers rather than joint ventures in Europe.

“The deal with Vodafone is already agreed,” said the CEO of Liberty Global, which owns British cable TV network Virgin Media. “It is being reviewed by EU regulators and their review should not be impacted by Brexit.”

“It has no immediate impact on our business and it has not reduced our appetite or interest in Europe. The UK is a relatively large part of our business and in the end British consumers will still want the same products and services.”

EU regulators are due to rule by July 19 on the deal between Liberty Global and Vodafone to merge their Dutch operations and create the second biggest telecoms provider there behind KPN KPN.AS.

The joint venture is part of a consolidation wave in recent years as companies seek scale to invest in costly fast-speed network infrastructure and offer combined services.

Vodafone and Liberty had been in talks about combining operations in as many as seven European markets last year but the negotiations failed.

“It’s a one-off transaction where we both benefit. Neither of us is looking beyond Holland in terms of such cooperation at the moment,” Fries told Reuters. “We don’t have plans to do it again, although it is a possibility. We’re more into takeovers than joint ventures.”

Liberty Global, owned by U.S. billionaire John Malone, operates in more than 30 countries.

The company has no plans to add new countries in Europe, but does intend to expend operations in countries where it is already present, including Poland, Fries said.

Market sources told Reuters this month Liberty, which owns Poland’s largest cable operator UPC, was in talks to buy rival Multimedia to double its market share, and may also be interested in Polish mobile operator Play.

Fries declined to comment on any specifics.

He said the company was always looking to get bigger and planned to invest about 4 billion zlotys ($1 billion) in Poland over the next five years anyway, not counting any takeovers.

“We are committed to mobility and it will grow as part of our business. We’re going to try to grow in mobile in Poland, too,” he said.

“We don’t have great scale in Poland, where we have 20 percent of the cable market. It’s a fragmented market and acquisitions are an option here.”

Editing by Marcin Goclowski and David Clarke