Vodafone's $11b takeover defies sluggish economy

Deal makers in Europe have waited months for the mergers and acquisitions market to show signs of recovery.

Deal makers in Europe have waited months for the mergers and acquisitions market to show signs of recovery.

On Monday, they got their wish.

The British telecoms giant Vodafone announced that it was buying Kabel Deutschland, Germany's largest cable operator, for €7.7 billion ($11 billion). The deal, one of the largest in Europe this year, follows almost six months of jockeying.

But analysts were quick to play down the idea of a wider rebound in deals across Europe.

Europe's sluggish economy continues to put off potential acquisitions, particularly in struggling sectors such as real estate and retail. Despite concerns about the faltering European economy, the telecoms sector has been one of the few bright spots for deals. Consumer demand for more data on mobile phone and broadband contracts has remained insatiable, as the use of smartphones, tablets and other internet-ready devices gains traction across Europe.

Vodafone has joined a continuing overhaul of Europe's telecoms industry in which local and international rivals compete to pocket assets across the continent.

"This is a unique deal in Europe's most solid economy," said Vittorio Colao, chief executive of Vodafone. "We see ourselves as a data company in every home and in every office."

Vodafone's offer for Kabel Deutschland represents the second-largest cable deal in Europe this year, after the purchase of Virgin Media of Britain by Liberty Global for $US16 billion ($17.4 billion).

It is also Vodafone's largest purchase since it took a controlling stake in Hutchison Essar of India for about $US11 billion in 2007.

As competition for mobile and fixed-line data services increases in Europe, analysts said Vodafone was looking to offer a combination of mobile phone, fixed-line, broadband and television products to customers. The combined operations would have about 32 million customers for mobile phone services, 5 million for broadband, almost 8 million for cable in Germany and yearly revenue there of €11.5 billion.

"Vodafone's move confirms the strategic value of cable," said Akhil Dattani, an analyst with JPMorgan Chase in London.

Despite the potential benefits of the deal, Vodafone faced stiff competition from John Malone's Liberty Global, which already owns Unity Media Kabel, Germany's second-largest cable operator. Liberty Global also made a preliminary offer for Kabel Deutschland, but it was unsuccessful.

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