French billionaire Xavier Niel snaps up stake in Vodafone

French billionaire Xavier Niel snaps up stake in Vodafone

French billionaire Xavier Niel has snapped up a 2.5 per cent stake in Vodafone, sending the British telecom shares climbing this morning.

Niel’s investment firm Atlas Investissement said in a filing that it saw “opportunities to accelerate both the streamlining of Vodafone’s footprint and the separation of its infrastructure assets,” which would involve cost cutting and boosting profitability.

The company confirmed that it backed consolidation in the UK and Italy, and separating out its infrastructure assets like towers and fiber. 

Niel has investments in the telecoms sector in nine countries in Europe with nearly 50 million active subscribers combined.

Niel is the founder and majority shareholder of the telco giant Iliad, which notably offered to buy Vodafone’s Italian unit for more than €11bn earlier this year. This bid was rejected by the firm.

In the firm’s most recent results, Vodafone boss Nick Read said that whilst the FTSE 100 company was “not immune” to current macroeconomic challenges, he said the near-term focus on operational and portfolio priorities remains unchanged.

“We’ve made good progress towards stabilising our commercial performance in Germany, and we continue to actively pursue opportunities with Vantage Towers and to strengthen our market positions in Europe,” he said.

Niel is not the only French tycoon dipping his toes in British telcos. The acquisition of BT shares by Patrick Drahi’s Altice was cleared by the business secretary last month after a review under the National Security and Investments Act (NSIA).

Drahi’s company is set to increase its BT stake from 12 per cent to 18 per cent, after announcing the decision in December.

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