November 5, 2007
Malaysia opens up to Vodafone
VODAFONE’s path into Asia will be cleared this week when state-controlled Telekom Malaysia announces plans to sell a strategic stake in its mobile arm. Telekom International, which is being demerged from TM’s fixed-line domestic business, owns significant stakes in mobile operations spanning nine Asian countries, including Indonesia, Cambodia and Bangla-desh, as well as Celcom, Malaysia’s No 2 operator. In all, it has 32m subscribers.
In anticipation of a sale, TM has been courted by a range of foreign operators and private-equity firms. But sources say that Vodafone is the frontrunner to make the investment, which could cost up to $3 billion (ฃ1.4 billion) for 25% of the new company. The pair already have a close marketing agreement under which TM sells Blackberry devices with Vodafone branding.
If Vodafone pulls off a deal, it would be another major step in chief executive Arun Sarin’s strategy of diversifying into fast-growing, underdeveloped markets. He has largely won over rebellious shareholders with well-judged acquisitions in Turkey and India that have offset sluggish growth in its European operations.
Although any Malaysia deal might not be completed until next year, Vodafone is on track to take control of Vodacom, its South African joint venture, before Christmas. Analysts value the 50% stake it does not already own in Vodacom at $10 billion.
But Sarin, who has preemptive rights to buy out South Africa’s dominant fixed-line company Telkom, will not pay the full amount. Vodafone is negotiating to increase its shareholding to roughly 75%. The remainder will be a free float of shares, designed to comply with South Africa’s black empower-ment ownership rules. However, Vodafone has not wasted time in stamping its mark on the business, which also has a presence in Mozambique and Tanzania. Headhunters have already been called in to find a successor for long-serving Vodacom boss Alan Knott-Craig. Vodafone declined to comment.