This article appeared Sept. 4, 2013, on Real Money. To read more content like this, + see inside Jim Cramer's multi-million dollar portfolio for FREE Click Here NOW.
Vodafone (VOD) recently announced its massive deal to sell off the company's 45% stake in Verizon Wireless (VZ - Get Report) for a whopping $130 billion. This was on the high end of what most had estimated the deal would be worth, and it was certainly good news for Vodafone shareholders.
The even greater news, however, was how Vodafone plans to spend the proceeds. Management says it will pay off a total of $20 billion in debt and return a massive $84 billion in cash to shareholders, and it will apparently spend a more modest $26 billion on acquisitions and investment. To put this into context, the company's American depositary receipt market capitalization is only $156 billion as of today.
For myself, as a Vodafone shareholder, my original fear was that management would plow the majority of proceeds into questing for a newer, bigger buyout, paying an equally big premium and squandering lots of money along the way. But, as we've seen here, Vodafone will actually be quite lean. The acquisitions it is seeking seem focused and thematic.While many large shareholders wanted to see more fireworks on the M&A front, I believe this mix is ideal and shows tremendous capital discipline. It's really a continued validation of Vodafone's record as the most shareholder-friendly big telecom firm in Europe. Fortress Europe Thus far, Vodafone's acquisitions have targeted cable providers in the U.K. and Germany. There is talk of buying Spanish and Swiss cable providers, too. Why cable? It's because Vodafone, as a pure play mobile telecom, faces obsolescence in a world where consumers want the ease and simplicity of "bundled" cable or satellite television, wireless phone, Internet and landline services. This is also why Vodafone is building out its fiber optic network in Europe and launching 3G services in smaller countries. If Vodafone wants to truly leverage mobile data growth in Europe, it needs to be competitive with bundling and raise its numbers in average revenue per user. By making these smaller, strategic cable acquisitions, Vodafone is planting the seeds for the company to grow and remain relevant in Europe without breaking the bank.