Vodafone Group CEO Vittorio Colao has been asked an innocuous question at a Morgan Stanley financial analyst’s conference in Barcelona. He was asked if the company consider selling ‘non-core’ assets in Australia, the Czech Republic, and Hungary – all countries where Vodafone is involved in a joint ventures.
Colao gave a reasonable reply: “We constantly check with possible parties interested in some of our less core assets. We would consider sales but we are not distressed sellers so therefore we must sell at full value. Otherwise we keep them and manage the cash,” Reuters reports him as saying.
That was enough to set things going. Elements of the Australian press – and in particular Fairfax Media – immediately exaggerated this and took it a step further, saying that Vodafone is considering a sale of Vodafone Hutchison Australia (VHA – its 50:50 joint venture with Hong Kong’s Hutchison) and is speaking to potential buyers.
That is drawing a rather long bow, based on Colao’s remarks. It doesn’t take much. It is hardly news that Vodafone would sell at the right price. Virtually anybody will sell virtually anything if offered enough money.
Vodafone Australia was forced to respond to the reports, saying that Colao referring to the “general principle” that Vodafone was open to potential changes, but that this was a “generic statement and was in no way intended to imply we have specific plans for any Vodafone local market.”
Speculation has been rife for years that VHA would be for sale at the right price, or that one of Vodafone or Hutchison would sell out to the other, or to another party. iTWire has often commented on this. But, despite Colao’s comments, nothing has changed.
Both Vodafone and Hutchinson have constantly stressed they are in it for the long run, that they are working well together, and that they are not considering selling out. The two companies have invested over $2 billion in recent years to improve Vodafone’s Australian network, which still suffers from what the company calls “reputational issues” after the ‘Vodafail’ network meltdown of 2011 and 2012.
Trouble is, it doesn’t much matter what Vodafone says. As the kerfuffle over Colao’s comments shows, just a few words will ignite the flames, and all the denials in the world will not douse them.