Persistence may not pay off for Vodafone

Contact: Ben Kolada, Thejeswi Venkatesh

After three deadline extensions and interest from competitor Tata Communications, Vodafone Group announced on Monday its latest attempt to acquire Cable & Wireless Worldwide (CWW). Vodafone is offering £1bn, or approximately $1.7bn, to buy CWW. However, its offer has already hit a roadblock. CWW’s largest shareholder, Orbis, which owns 19% of the company, has rejected the bid on the grounds that it undervalues CWW. Vodafone initially expressed interest in acquiring CWW on February 13.

Orbis’ argument does hold some ground. Although Vodafone’s offer represents a 92% per-share premium to when the deal was originally announced, it still values CWW below some precedent transactions. Vodafone is valuing CWW at half times revenue and just 2.7x EBITDA for the 12 months ending September 30, 2011. In comparison, US cable company Knology recently sold to WideOpenWest for 2.8x sales and 8x EBITDA, while SureWest Communications was valued at 2.2x revenue and 6.8x EBITDA in its sale to Consolidated Communications in February. For more business-focused comparisons, PAETEC was valued at 1.3x sales and 8.4x EBITDA in its sale to Windstream Communications in August 2011. Level 3 Communications paid 1.1x revenue and 7.3x EBITDA for Global Crossing in April 2011.

Given the strategic significance of this deal to Vodafone, we expect that the company could appease Orbis with a higher bid. We’ve previously written that Vodafone, which is light on its fixed-line capacity in the UK, would likely use the acquisition to enable more bandwidth availability for its mobile users. The UK wireless operator will be able to take advantage of CWW’s vast infrastructure to backhaul its own cellular services, rather than rely on third-party operators. Throughout the wireless industry, cellular operators are increasingly feeling their networks squeezed as users consume more and more high-bandwidth data. Further, with £7.7bn ($12bn) of cash and marketable securities in its treasury, Vodafone could certainly afford a higher offer.