Suspicions mount that partner Verizon Comm wants to squeeze it out of partnership
Investors in Britain’s Vodafone are getting increasingly vexed over whether a special dividend is forthcoming through its joint ownership of Verizon Wireless, America’s largest mobile operator.
Verizon, 45 per cent owned by Vodafone, finally got around to paying a dividend in February this year  after a long gap. It resulted in a £2.8 billion windfall for Vodafone most of which was distributed to its shareholders via a special 4 pence dividend. With Verizon’s revenues still on the up, analysts had expected the pattern to be repeated, calculating the dividend bonanza could rise to £3 billion this financial year and to £4 billion by 2016. News of another special pay-out to investors was thought to be imminent but, more than a month after its half yearly results, there’s still no sign of Verizon playing ball – much to the irritation of Vodafone investors.
It is more than a decade since Vodafone started a mobile phone partnership with New York-based broadband operator Verizon Communications, whose own faltering landline revenues got a much needed boost from the joint venture.
But now there is growing suspicion that Verizon Communications executives would like to buy out Vodafone’s stake or force a merger – and vetoing a dividend from the joint venture could be a ruse in that direction.
Verizon Communication’s share price has risen around 15 per cent this year while Vodafone’s stock grew by a more modest 3.5 per cent.
By depriving Vodafone’s investors of a special dividend, it’s likely the UK operator’s share price will plateau at best, making a buy-out by Verizon Communications, or merger, more affordable.
Vodafone, no longer the world’s biggest mobile phone company after being overtaken China Mobile, increasingly relies on its US mobile partnership to make up for slumping sales in Europe.
Perhaps significantly, its executives have disposed of large shareholdings in recent months.
Meanwhile Verizon Wireless, which employs 85,000 workers, has defended its previous unwillingness to pay out a recurring dividend on the basis it needs the cash either to reduce debt or acquire more spectrum from the likes of Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks.