UAE telecoms group takes 9.8 per cent stake in Vodafone

Emirates Telecommunications Group has acquired a 9.8 per cent stake in Vodafone for around $4.4bn as it kick-starts its latest expansion into international markets.

The state-controlled UAE group, formerly known as Etisalat and now rebranded e&, on Saturday said the investment allowed it to “gain significant exposure to a world leader in connectivity and digital services”. e& said the transaction provided a “compelling and attractive valuation”.

The Abu Dhabi-listed group said it planned to be a long-term shareholder in Vodafone and was supportive of Vodafone’s board. There were no plans to make an offer for the British multinational, it added.

“We are looking forward to building a mutually beneficial strategic partnership with Vodafone with the goal of driving value creation for both our businesses, exploring opportunities in the rapidly developing global telecom market and supporting the adoption of next-generation technologies,” Hatem Dowidar, chief executive, said in a statement.

Vodafone acknowledged the investment, saying it looked forward to building a long-term relationship with Etisalat.

Vodafone has been under pressure since it emerged that Cevian Capital, Europe’s largest activist investor, had built an unspecified stake, and had been angling for an overhaul of what its investors believe to be an overly-complex business model.

Investors at Cevian have called for the company to shed poorly performing parts of the business, and make material progress towards mergers or acquisitions in markets that chief executive Nick Read has said he is looking to do deals in, namely the UK, Italy and Spain.

The Financial Times reported earlier this week that Vodafone was in talks to combine its UK operations with its domestic rival Three UK, the mobile operator owned by Hong Kong infrastructure conglomerate CK Hutchison.

Karen Egan, an analyst at Enders Analysis, said e&’s stake amounted to “another shareholder to add to the pressure on Read . . . at a crucial time for him”.

“A company like that doesn’t take a sizeable minority position unless they think they can have a lot of influence and I don’t think that they would buy a company like Vodafone…