Daily Mail

French tycoon snaps up stake in Vodafone

- By Mark Shapland

A FREnCH billionair­e has snapped up a 2.5pc stake in Vodafone, worth £750m.

Xavier niel is the second French tycoon to swoop on a British telecoms company after Patrick Drahi built an 18pc stake in BT.

niel, 55, is renowned for his ruthless activism in France and his foray onto Vodafone’s share register paves the way for a shake-up at the underperfo­rming telecoms giant.

The Frenchman is best known for owning iliad, a smaller European competitor. But he built up his Vodafone stake through his investment vehicle Atlas.

niel said he was supportive of Vodafone’s strategy and its ‘publicly stated intention to pursue consolidat­ion opportunit­ies in selected geographie­s, as well as its efforts in infrastruc­ture separation’.

But analysts warned his strategy was not yet known and it remains to be seen if the billionair­e will add to his stake and ask for representa­tion on the board.

Under chief executive nick Read, Vodafone has struggled to grow and failed to complete meaningful merger and acquisitio­ns transactio­ns.

As a result, it has become a target for activist investors with Swedish hedge fund Cevian, run by Christer Gardell, taking a stake in January and Coast Capital building a position in February.

Cevian has called for Read to shed poorly performing parts of the business.

niel becomes the third activist investor this year, and Read’s position now looks increasing­ly vulnerable.

Two years ago niel helped oust the boss of a French property firm, change the group’s strategy and join the board.

One City analyst said: ‘He’s a disrupter. He’ll try and shake things up. To be honest, it is much needed at Vodafone.’

niel made a fortune from pornograph­y and peep shows, and is worth an estimated £7bn. He is renowned in French social circles and his partner is Delphine Arnault, daughter of France’s richest man, Bernard Arnault, and heiress to luxury conglomera­te LVMH.

The UK’s telecoms sector has become a magnet for French billionair­es with Drahi building an 18pc stake in BT last year, causing alarm bells to ring in Westminste­r amid fears that key infrastruc­ture could fall into foreign hands.

Shares in Vodafone rose 2.3pc, or 2.4p, to 108.78p.

 ?? ?? Renowned: Xavier Niel with partner Delphine Arnault
Renowned: Xavier Niel with partner Delphine Arnault

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