BT to continue O2 and EE deal talks after board meeting-source

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 09, 2014 7:57 AM

LONDON (Reuters) - The board of BT met on Tuesday to discuss the possible acquisition of British mobile operators O2 or EE, and agreed to continue talks with both sides, a person familiar with the situation said.

The BT board meeting was a regularly scheduled one, said the source, and had not been especially convened to discuss the takeover options. BT is hoping to make a decision within the next 10 days.

The telecoms group has been in talks with O2's owner Telefonica and with the parent firms of Britain's largest mobile carrier EE, France's Orange and Germany's Deutsche Telekom , about a deal.

The move would turn BT into a powerhouse not only in fixed-line broadband, but also mobile, at a possible cost of between 9 billion pounds ($14.1 billion) and 11 billion pounds.

BT's choice to buy Britain's number one or two mobile operators will come down to whether it wants to stretch to buy EE, a higher quality, larger company, or take the lower risk, simpler option presented by 02, people close to the situation earlier told Reuters.

At issue is not only the price the seller wants but also the structure, with regard to cash or shares or even asset swaps, and whether BT would undertake a rights issue, the people said.

One person involved in the talks said BT buying O2 was the easier deal since it was smaller and there was only one seller and not two as for EE. Telefonica is also eager to sell because it needs to cut debt.

EE is the leader in 4G superfast mobile however and could be more in line with BT's push into fast fibre services.

BT, Telefonica, Orange and Deutsche Telekom declined to comment.

BT's foray into mobile is expected to tilt the UK telecoms market towards all-inclusive bundles of fixed and mobile calling, broadband and TV, now common elsewhere in Europe.

Shares in the group have risen 9 percent since the talks were revealed on Nov. 24 and BT was given a further boost on Monday when Woodford Investment Management, run by 'star' manager Neil Woodford, said it was incredibly supportive of a mobile deal.

The manoeuvring has galvanized mobile rivals such as Vodafone and Hutchison Whampoa's Three into actively looking for deals or partnerships.

(Reporting by Kate Holton and Freya Berry; writing by Leila Abboud; Editing by Keith Weir, Louise Heavens and Susan Thomas)