Hutchison Whampoa

Hutchison moves on to next telecoms courtship in Europe

Hutchison seeks new merger target after talks with Telecom Italia fail

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 July, 2013, 3:30am

Sincere, warm-hearted Hong Kong conglomerate with GSOH seeks domestic mobile service providers in Europe for long-term commitment, possible marriage or exchange of equity stakes.

Hutchison Whampoa chairman Li Ka-shing has not actually booked advertisements in the personal columns of newspapers across the continent, but the mobile network subsidiaries of the company's Three Group Europe division have been actively searching for strategic merger and acquisition deals.

So it was no surprise that Hutchison was unfazed and has moved on after the collapse of recent discussions for a potential merger of its Three Italia subsidiary and the wireless division of Telecom Italia, Italy's biggest fixed-line and mobile telecommunications network operator.

Previous talks between Hutchison and Telecom Italia in 2010 also ended without any deal.

"Maybe next time," a source familiar with the talks said.

Although the third time could be the charm, Hutchison has continued to ferret out deals that could push consolidation in Europe's telecommunications market while helping expand the firm's operations.

A source said Hutchison held concurrent discussions with Wind Telecomunicazioni, the third-largest mobile network operator and second-biggest fixed-line carrier in Italy. Three Italia, by comparison, is the smallest mobile network player in the market with a 10 per cent share.

The source said Wind's Russian owner, VimpelCom, carried no political baggage that could derail a potential transaction with Hutchison, unlike the situation with Telecom Italia.

Thomas Husson, the principal analyst for marketing and strategy at Forrester Research, said yesterday there could have been "some political pressure on Telecom Italia's management since most EU governments tend to consider telecommunications network operations as strategic investments and prefer to avoid foreign investors".

Hutchison owns mobile network operations in Italy, Britain, Denmark, Sweden, Austria, Ireland and Australia. Last month, it clinched a deal to buy Spanish group Telefonica's O2 Ireland mobile business for €780 million (HK$7.8 billion). In January, it closed its €1.3 billion purchase of wireless carrier Orange Austria.

Group managing director Canning Fok Kin-ning declared last year the company's intentions in Europe, saying "if there is ever a consolidation to be done, then we are the consolidator, not the consolidated".