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[January 23, 2006]
Vodafone steels itself for a mauling
(The Sunday Telegraph Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)ARUN SARIN, the chief executive of Vodafone, is expected to come under further pressure from shareholders to alter radically his strategy for the group when the mobile giant reports subscriber numbers on Tuesday.
Institutional investors in the company have been increasingly unhappy with the operational performance and some want to see Vodafone sell its struggling business in Japan and its minority stake in Verizon Wireless of the US.
The group's key performance indicator numbers for the third quarter of this financial year are expected to show that Vodafone has added about 7m new customers. However, they will also show that revenues in Germany and Italy - two key markets for Vodafone - have fallen.
It is believed that UK performance will also be weaker than expected. This is partly due to a strong performance in the past three months by T-Mobile, which will say next week that it has added more than 750,000 customers in Britain on the back of solid growth in its contract customer base.
Sir John Bond, the incoming chairman of Vodafone, has spent the past few weeks listening to shareholder grievances.
One fund manager who met Bond said: "He was in listening mode. He is not joining the company for a few months, so there wasn't much more that he could do.'' Another said: "Vodafone's investor relationships need a lot of repairing.''
Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein, the investment house, believes that Vodafone's organic revenue growth will slow from 6.9 per cent in the second quarter to 6.2 per cent - a slowdown it describes as "sentiment-harming''.
Bear Stearns added that Vodafone would report "slowing growth in its core markets'' and restated its "underperform'' evaluation of the stock.
Vodafone's shares fell on every day last week, shaving pounds 6bn, or 6.5 per cent, from the company's market capitalisation. The company's shares have been among the worst performers in the FTSE100 index over the past year. Its shares closed on Friday at 118p.
This is despite a 15 per cent rise in the dividend payment, announced in November, and an increase in the company's share buyback programme.
But investors remain unconvinced that Sarin can successfully turn around Vodafone's Japanese subsidiary and remain concerned that he will continue to focus on acquisitions at the expense of shareholder returns.
Sarin apologised to investors in November for Vodafone's failure to provide proper financial guidance, but sentiment in the City towards the mobile telecoms company has remained bearish.
It is believed that Vodafone has decided against bidding for Millicom, the $3.6bn Nasdaq-listed mobile network operator, which last week announced that it had received a number of expressions of interest.
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