BT will not face takeover bid from new 12% shareholder Altice

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Altice, the telecoms group founded by French billionaire Patrick Drahi, has taken a 12.1% stake in BT Group PLC (LON:BT.A) but says it does not intend to bid for control of the company.

Altice said it “holds the board and management team of BT in high regard and is supportive of their strategy”, according to a statement.

“Altice UK has informed the BT board that it does not intend to make a takeover offer,” it added, with its stake being held by a new UK business set up for the purpose.

BT has been under pressure in recent years due to the demand of installing a fast fibre network across the UK while meeting the demands of a big pension fund and shareholders.

The group said recently its network arm Openreach intends to install fibre broadband to 25mln homes and businesses by 2026 and would consider a partner to help fund the roll-out.

BT may have to sell its sports operations, which owns broadcast rights to some English Premier League matches, to help pay for the fibre investment.

Patrick Drahi said: “BT has a significant opportunity to upgrade and extend its full-fibre broadband network to bring substantial benefits to millions of households across the UK. We fully support the management’s strategy to deliver on this opportunity.

“We understand that the expansion of the broadband network is one of the UK Government’s most important policy objectives and a core part of its levelling up agenda.

“Altice has a long and highly successful record of effectively operating national fibre and mobile networks in a number of countries, serving over 40 million customers.”

In a statement, BT said it noted the Altice investment and support for its management and strategy.

“We welcome all investors who recognize the long-term value of our business and the important role it plays in the UK. We are making good progress in delivering our strategy and plan,” it added.

Who is Altice

The French group was formed in and through a series of carefully selected acquisitions increasingly using debt. The business is now France’s second-largest mobile phone company and a significant player in the US.

In 2013, the business moved to a new level when it acquired SFR, France’s second-biggest mobile phone and internet provider, from Vivendi.

That was followed two years later by a move into the US where Altice acquired 70% of Suddenlink Communications and Cablevision for US$9bn and US$18bn respectively, which were merged and listed in New York where the current market cap is US$16bn.

Why BT

Undoubtedly BT has problems but the big prize is a first-mover advantage once a new fibre network is up and running and at that point, analysts say instead of being a cash drain Openreach becomes a cash cow.

Challengers are growing. So-called altnets such as CityFibre are targeting the most lucrative urban areas, while the Virgin O2 merger also means another potential headache, though intriguingly big rival Vodafone has hinted it might be prepared to invest in Openreach.

On top of that BT has shareholders who are used to getting a meaty dividend while there is a big pension fund deficit to fill.

One option floated is a break-up and splitting off of the Openreach arm, which analysts say is worth up to £25bn at least, and though it says it will not bid, analysts say pushing for a break-up especially if Altice gets a seat on the board might be a different matter.

For now, Altice says it is supportive of BT’s management and strategy but it is hard to imagine it will be as passive a shareholder as Deutsche Telekom, which has stuck its 12% stake in BT into a pension fund.

Shares in BT rose 7% to 195.7p.

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