Vodafone nears stake sale in $5.3 bn Spanish unit to Zegona: Report


By Elffie Chew and Manuel Baigorri

Vodafone Group Plc is close to selling a stake of at least 50% in its Spanish business to Zegona Communications Plc in a deal that values the asset at more than €5 billion ($5.3 billion), according to people familiar with the matter.

The firms are finalizing details of a transaction and an announcement could come in the coming days, the people said. London-based Zegona, an acquisition vehicle, has beaten out other bidders including private equity firm RRJ Capital in the process, the people said.

While discussions are at an advanced stage, they could still be delayed or even falter, according to the people. Vodafone didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment made outside of normal business hours. A spokesman for Zegona reiterated the details of a statement on Sept. 22, when the company confirmed talks with Vodafone and said it was discussing financing with its banks.

Newbury, England-based Vodafone has been trying to do a deal in Spain for more than a year. Its previous chief executive officer Nick Read said the market needed consolidation, but ended up on the sidelines as its rivals agreed to merge. Following years of eroding earnings, Read’s replacement, Margherita Della Valle, demoted the unit to Vodafone’s so-called “cluster” of smaller European businesses and placed it under strategic review.

The British carrier has been working with an adviser as it evaluates options for the Spanish business, Bloomberg News reported in July. Warburg Pincus was among those considering a bid for the assets, while Apollo Global Management Inc. has also shown initial interest, people familiar with the matter said previously.

In September, Vodafone said it was in talks with Zegona about a potential deal for the Spanish unit. A consortium led by RRJ Capital, the buyout firm run by former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. banker Richard Ong, was weighing an offer for the assets as well, Bloomberg News reported last week.

Spain’s telecoms market, already one of Europe’s most competitive, is expected to undergo a deep transformation in the coming months. Orange SA and Masmovil Ibercom SA are awaiting regulatory clearance to merge in a deal that will create Spain’s largest carrier, ahead of Telefonica SA. 

The European Commission is tipped to impose strict conditions for the merger, which could potentially lead to Orange and Masmovil having to sell certain assets to a smaller rival. The decision will be taken as a sign of the Commission’s willingness to allow consolidation in the sector.

Zegona, which describes itself as having a “buy-fix-sell” strategy, has already played a key role in the sector’s consolidation in Spain. Founded in 2015 and run by former Virgin Media Ltd. executive Eamonn O’Hare, the company bought and sold Spanish operator Euskaltel SA to Masmovil Ibercom, a deal the took the market from five players down to four.


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