Hutch is eyeing up O2's €800m Irish business
Debt-laden Spanish telecom firm Telefonica has denied it is considering selling off its €800m-valued Irish O2 mobile business, despite claims made to the Sunday Independent that the Irish company was discreetly offered to a number of trade buyers by financiers before Christmas.
Telefonica has denied that O2 is on the market. "Telefonica confirms that its Irish business is not for sale," said a spokesman.
The €70bn-valued Chinese conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa is believed to be interested in expanding its operations in Ireland where it already owns the fast-growing 3 network.
Hutchison Whampoa has just spent €1bn to buy the Austrian operations of Orange. Last October, Hutchison Whampoa chairman Canning Fok told Italian newspaper Corriere della Serra that the company was eager to buy mobile phone companies in Europe. "If there will be consolidation, we will be protagonists," he said.
3 Ireland said that it would not comment on speculation. However, sources close to the company said "we would certainly consider commercial opportunities that come up".
Last week, Telefonica missed analysts' forecasts as demand for mobiles was hit by the euro debt crisis. The company had told investors that it would seek to offload underperforming or non-core assets across its operations as it moved to reduce its €56bn debt burden.
The Madrid-headquartered company announced it had offloaded €823m worth of assets in 2011, including a €184m stake in Portugal Telecom. It has also just sold its 13.23 per cent stake in Hispasat for €125m.
The Spanish company has said that it would not sell stakes in its operations in Mexico, Germany or its 9.7 per cent shareholding in China Unicom. Analysts have forecast that it will jettison some smaller "non-strategic" assets.
Last year, O2 Ireland announced that its customer numbers across fixed line and mobile services had fallen from 1.7 million to 1.68 million, with the amount it earned from each customer also falling.
Hutchison Whampoa's Cheung Kong Infrastructure holding company is one of China's biggest companies and is understood to be very interested in buying Irish state assets being sold off under the agreement with the troika.
Sunday Indo Business