LONDON — The stock price of John Malone’s international cable company Liberty Global jumped by 3.22% to $78.59 Thursday as speculation mounted that the company could become a takeover target for U.K. telco Vodafone Group.
Vodafone is in the process of selling its 45% stake in U.S. wireless carrier Verizon Wireless to Verizon Communications for up to $130 billion. With the proceeds of the sale, Vodafone would then be in a position to add to its European network, which was strengthened recently by the acquisition of Germany’s top cabler Kabel Deutschland.
The hike in Liberty Global stock followed a research note issued Thursday by Macquarie Equities’ media analyst Amy Yong that suggested that Vodafone may view Liberty Global as a tasty morsel. “Given the need for scale and scarcity of European cable assets, there are likely significant synergies in a Vodafone-Liberty Global combination,” she said.
Liberty Global, which has a market capitalization of around $30 billion, would indeed be an attractive acquisition for Vodafone, as it has 25 million customers in 14 countries, including 12 in Europe. Its German operations would be of particular interest, where Liberty Global owns the country’s second and third largest cablers, UnityMedia and Kabel Baden-Wuerttemberg.
The regulatory barriers to such a deal, particularly in countries like the U.K., where Liberty Global owns Virgin Media, and Germany, would be high. A move by Liberty Global to merge UnityMedia and Kabel Baden-Wuerttemberg was blocked in the German courts this month, although the company will appeal that decision.