Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ) and Vodafone Group Plc (ADR) (NASDAQ:VOD) are once again in the news, following reports that the companies held extensive talks about the future of the Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ) Wireless joint venture last year. The rumor mill has it that the UK mobile giant and Verizon discussed a range of options last year, including a sale of Vodafone’s share in the joint venture and a full merger of the partners. Vodafone Group Plc (ADR) (NASDAQ:VOD) and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ) have declined to comment on the latest report, but reports claim discussions stalled over “disagreements on leadership and headquarters location.”
We will probably never figure out the truth but the reports seem to have fueled a rally in the ADR units of the UK mobile giant, which has advanced more than 6% in the prior week. On the other hand, Verizon shares have remained flat. It is no secret that Verizon is very much interested in keeping hold of Verizon Wireless, given the fact that the mobile operator makes the most money for its parent. This essentially means that Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ) is an interested buyer and will need to cough up some serious money to acquire the 45% in the venture it does not already own. While nothing is set in stone yet, by some accounts, this stake could be worth $115 billion. A full takeover of the venture by Verizon has been tipped for some years now though earlier talks in this direction never reached advanced stages.
An exit from the venture also makes sense for Vodafone, which had been under pressure from investors as Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ) Wireless did not return a dividend for a long time. This was in sharp contrast to Vodafone Group Plc (ADR) (NASDAQ:VOD)’s general corporate approach of offering generous dividends. The trend came to an end in early last year when Vodafone finally received a $10 billion payout, followed by a $3 billion dividend in November. However, vocal shareholder groups continue to argue that the US is not a mainstream market for Vodafone – a criticism largely true. Vodafone Group Plc (ADR) (NASDAQ:VOD) has embarked upon a strategy of exiting operators where it does not hold a controlling stake, leading to the sale of significant holdings in China Mobile Ltd. (ADR) (NYSE:CHL) and France’s SFR in recent years – leaving Verizon Wireless as the only remaining major operator where it holds a minority holding. Vodafone chief executive Vittorio Colao has maintained it several times that he has an open mind about what will happen to the US unit.