LONDON (Reuters) - Deutsche Telekom is considering selling its 12 percent stake in BT Group, two sources familiar with the matter said, paving the way for it to leave the British telecoms market following Britain’s vote to quit the European Union.
The German group is evaluating a potential sale of its stake, which has a market value of 4.4 billion pounds ($5.47 billion), and will take a final decision once it has more clarity on the kind of deal Britain will strike with the EU next year, the sources said.
While there is no certainty a deal will happen, Deutsche Telekom’s deliberations are one signal that foreign companies are rethinking their strategic investments in Britain in the wake of the Brexit vote.
The fall in the value of the pound and forecasts that economic growth will shrink as a result of Britain losing access to the European single market have cast a shadow over the country’s attractiveness as a place for foreign companies to hold strategic investments.
Deutsche Telekom declined to comment and a spokesperson for BT Group said the British company does not comment on rumour and speculation.
Deutsche Telekom is restricted by a lock-up agreement to sell its stake in BT before August 2017 unless it agrees an off-market deal with financial investors.
The company also operates an IT and consulting business in Britain through its subsidiary T-Systems, which DT once tried to merge with BT’s Global Services unit but is now rumoured to be selling.
Deutsche Telekom became BT’s largest shareholder when the British telecom group bought mobile player EE for GBP 12.5 billion last year, in which France’s Orange and DT had 50 percent each.
An exit from Britain would allow Deutsche Telekom to concentrate on its larger business in the United States, which has been touted as a possible takeover target following a string of deals in the U.S. telecoms, media and technology sector.
Freeing up capital from Britain would allow Deutsche Telekom the option to do a deal itself and remove the threat of an uninvited takeover bid.
Britain represents a relatively small part of Deutsche Telekom’s value while its U.S. operation accounts for 42 percent of total revenue, exceeding its home market, which constitutes 32 percent, according to Thomson Reuters data.
Analysts have identified the company’s T-Mobile US business as a possible deal target in the U.S. telecoms space following AT&T’s $85.4 billion acquisition of Time Warner last week. Potential bidders would include Comcast Corp, satellite-TV provider Dish Network Corp, and Mexican telecom company America Movil, they said.
“If DT wants to remain a competitive, independent player in the U.S. they’ll need to team-up with a cable player like Sprint”, said one of the sources.
Deutsche Telekom owns 65 percent of the T-Mobile US which has a market value of $40 billion.
Deutsche Telekom would want to assess how much they need to spend on U.S. spectrum and how much capital will be required to take part in sector consolidation in the United States and in Europe before making any final call on Britain, one of the sources said.
($1 = 0.8049 pounds)
Reporting by Sophie Sassard in London; additional reporting by Arno Schuetze and Christoph Steitz in Frankfurt; Editing by Rachel Armstrong and Angus MacSwan