By Muvija M and Tiyashi Datta
LONDON (Reuters) -U.S.-listed Liberty Global disclosed a near-5% stake in British telecom group Vodafone on Monday, saying its larger rival’s shares were undervalued by the market but ruling out a takeover.
Liberty Global Chief Executive Mike Fries called the stake in Vodafone, whose shares have heavily lagged London’s blue-chip index over the past two years with a 30% drop, an “opportunistic and financial investment.”
“We believe, like many others, that Vodafone’s current share price does not reflect the underlying long-term value of their operating businesses, or their announced consolidation and infrastructure opportunities,” Fries said.
Vodafone, which reported worse-than-expected quarterly results earlier this month, declined to comment. The pair own Vodafone Ziggo, a Netherlands venture.
The British company, whose boss of four years, Nick Read, stepped down in December, has been selling assets to focus on Europe and Africa, but the deals have not boosted its stock price, which has fallen over the past five years.
Liberty Global owns half of Virgin Media O2, a major Vodafone rival in its home market, and has operations in Belgium, Switzerland, Ireland and Slovakia.
Liberty Global is now Vodafone’s third-largest shareholder after UAE-based telecoms company e& and American investment group BlackRock. French telecoms billionaire Xavier Niel also bought a stake in Vodafone last year.
Shares in Vodafone, which operates in 24 countries, closed 2.1% higher at 94 pence on Monday, giving the company a market capitalisation of 25.50 billion pounds ($30.94 billion), Refinitiv data showed.
Liberty Global, valued at $9.94 billion, bought 1.34 billion Vodafone shares, or about 4.93% of the company, through a deal involving 225 million pounds in equity funding from the group, according to its statement.
The Nasdaq-listed company, which also has stakes in British broadcaster ITV, data centre provider AtlasEdge and the Formula E racing series, said it did not intend to seek a board seat. Its shares were down 1.6% by 1940 GMT, losing out on a broader Wall Street rally.
($1 = 0.8242 pounds)
(Reporting by Muvija M in London and Tiyashi Datta in Bengaluru; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli, Jane Merriman, Paul Sandle and Richard Chang)