May 3, 2018 / 2:48 PM / 5 months ago

Vodafone closes in on game-changing Liberty Global deal

LONDON (Reuters) - Vodafone is nearing a transformational deal to buy continental European assets from cable giant Liberty Global and could announce an agreement next week, three sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.

Talks between the two companies about a deal for Liberty’s German and Eastern European cable operations are nearing a conclusion, according to the sources. “It’s the final phase,” one of them said.

Both companies declined to comment.

John Malone’s Liberty will report its first-quarter results on May 9 after the U.S. market closes and Vodafone has its annual results the following week on May 15.

Either earnings announcement would provide the companies with an opportunity to unveil a deal. The two sides could still hit a hurdle, however, the sources cautioned.

The world’s second biggest mobile operator said in February it was in talks about buying Liberty’s assets in the continental European countries where they overlap: Germany, Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania.

The two had previously discussed combining operations in 2015, but they could not reach agreement on values.

But the logic of bundling Vodafone’s mobile networks with Liberty’s broadband and cable TV to take on former incumbents such as Deutsche Telekom never went away.

The thesis has already been tested in the Netherlands, where the two formed a joint venture, VodafoneZiggo, in 2016.

When the talks were announced three months ago, analysts at Royal Bank of Canada said that based on a typical deal multiple of 11 times enterprise value divided by core earnings, Vodafone could pay about 20.7 billion euros ($24.8 billion) for Liberty’s Unity Media in Germany and the other assets.

Other media reports have valued a potential deal at 16.5 billion euros.

Deutsche Telekom has already voiced its concern over a deal and a lobby group representing Germany’s glass fibre industry chimed in on Thursday by saying it should be blocked because it would create a cable TV monopoly in the country.

The talks coincide with a mergers and acquisitions boom in Britain as company bosses take advantage of the availability of cheap debt financing and confidence in the global economy to strike deals.

On Monday, supermarket giant Sainsbury’s struck a 7.3 billion-pound ($9.9 billion) deal to buy rival Asda from Walmart, while last week Japan’s Takeda Pharmaceutical agreed the preliminary terms of a $64 billion offer for London-listed drugmaker Shire and Comcast made a 22 billion-pound bid for Britain’s Sky.($1 = 0.7359 pounds)

($1 = 0.8351 euros)

Additional reporting by Pamela Barbaglia and Kate Holton in London; Nadine Schimroszik in Frankfurt

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