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Vodafone Sticks With Verizon

Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD) CEO Arun Sarin says his company has no intention of selling its 45 percent stake in CDMA mobile operator Verizon Wireless , worth an estimated £25 billion (US$44.6 billion), any time soon, though a sale in the future is possible.

During a conference call today about the wireless carrier's third-quarter key performance indicators (KPIs), Vodafone said Verizon Wireless has been an increasingly valuable asset during the past few years, and had added a record 2 million customers during the October-to-December quarter. (See Vodafone Reports Q3 KPIs.)

Sarin added that Vodafone's stake had risen in value by nearly $10 billion each year for the past two years, and that any future decision about the sale of the stake would be based on maximizing shareholder return.

The carrier's KPIs, meanwhile, were "better than the cautious market expectations," noted the analyst team at Lehman Brothers in a research note issued this morning. But that didn't make up for the carrier's decision not to sell the U.S. stake and return the cash to its shareholders, as Vodafone's stock dipped on the London Stock Exchange by more than 2 percent to 118.25 pence this morning.

Julian Hewett at telecom consultancy Ovum Ltd. noted that investors have become increasingly vocal about the potential disposal of the Verizon stake, and that some of the conference call questions and answers about the potential tax hit from such a sale suggest Vodafone has certainly looked into the implications.

As for the performance indicators, subscriber numbers increased by more than expected. The Lehman team said they had expected net subscriber additions of about 5.8 million in the third quarter, but Vodafone, with healthier than expected uptake in the U.S, Germany, and the U.K., added 7.1 million customers to take its global total to 179.3 million.

But Ovum's Hewett, in his research note, reckons Vodafone is "no more than a middle-of-the-road performer in its main European markets," and he sees no sign that Vodafone's aggressive push into 3G has made any noticeable difference.

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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