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Vodafone Says Its Close to $130 Billion Verizon Wireless Exit

By Andrew Bulkeley

BERLIN ( The Deal) -- The board of phone company Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ - Get Report) is expected to approve a $130 billion cash-and-stock agreement to buy a 45% stake in Verizon Wireless from partner Vodafone Group PLC (VOD) late Monday.

Vodafone said on Sunday that it was in "advanced talks" on the record-setting deal, confirming the price tag for the first time. It would be the biggest deal since Vodafone, of Newbury, England, bought Germany's Mannesmann AG for €180 billion ($238.8 billion) in 2000.

"The consideration would substantially comprise a mixture of Verizon common stock and cash," Vodafone said. "There is no certainty that an agreement will be reached. A further announcement will be made as soon as practicable."

The agreement would end years of speculation about the venture, which started in 1999 with Vodafone's entry into the U.S. market. Financing and tax questions have proved obstacles to previous restructurings of the ownership but both sides this time have apparently overcome the hurdles.

"Considering the increasing competition in the U.S. and the price, the time is right to get out," Independent Research GmbH analyst Markus Friebel wrote in a note anticipating the sale. "However, Vodafone would be losing its most valuable asset and would then be more dependent on its weak European business."

Verizon, of New York, has reportedly lined up $60 billion in financing from JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM), Morgan Stanley (MS), Barclays PLC (BCS) and Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BAC) and would pay the remainder in shares. The only thing left is for the suitor's board to approve the deal, leading to an announcement after the London Stock Exchange closes Monday, according to Reuters.

To help offset the sting of the price for New York-based Verizon, Vodafone would also buy a 23% stake in its Vodafone Italia from Verizon for 4 billion euros, Bloomberg has reported.

Vodafone's stock already jumped 8% Thursday when it confirmed talks for the first time and gained an additional 4.4%, or 9.25 pence, in early London trading to 213.97 pence ($3.33) Monday.

Once complete, analysts expect Vodafone to return some cash and potentially Verizon shares to investors, pay down its £24.4 billion ($38 billion) in debt then seek acquisitions.
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