Swedish activist investor targets Vodafone over weak performance

Vodafone has been targeted by the activist investor Cevian, prompting speculation that the telecoms giant will come under pressure to overhaul its faltering global business.

The Swedish investment firm has built up holdings in Vodafone in recent months, according to sources quoted by Bloomberg, privately piling pressure on the firm to improve its performance.

Shares in the British multinational have almost halved in value since 2018, with investor sentiment apparently declining through a series of acquisitions and sell-offs, amid belief that Vodafone overpaid for assets such as the German cable business it acquired in an €18bn deal that year.

Cevian, which says it is a constructive investor in “overlooked, misunderstood or out-of-favour” firms, has gained prominence in the City after building up a 5% holding in the insurance firm Aviva, and has also owns a significant stake in education publisher Pearson, as well as Swedish telecoms business Ericsson.

Nick Read, the chief executive since late 2018, will be under renewed pressure to reshape the business. Read accepted cuts to his earnings package soon after arrival to head off an investors’ revolt in 2019, after Vodafone said it could not pay a dividend after incurring huge losses in buying up 5G spectrum in European auctions.

Supporters say he has made the firm focus more tightly on Europa and Africa, and took decisive action to write off entirely the value of Vodafone’s unhappy investment in the Indian market.

Analysts have speculated that Vodafone, a £34bn plc headquartered in Berkshire, may be pushed by Cevian to shore up its UK position – possibly acquiring other telecoms firms to take on BT and Virgin Media, or sell down its remaining stake in the mobile masts business it spun off in 2019.

Cevian and Vodafone did not comment.

British phone rival BT is also facing boardroom pressure from the interest of an activist investor, with French billionaire Patrick Drahi’s Altice building up a shareholding of 18% lo scorso mese. Drahi said he was “supportive of BT’s strategy” despite signs that he may be manoeuvring towards a takeover – although the UK government could block any such move.

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