BY Fraser Tennant
Following months of speculation, France-based telecommunications giants Orange and Bouygues Telecom have confirmed discussions surrounding a potential merger – a combination that, if it goes ahead, would account for approximately 50 percent of the French mobile and fixed telecoms market.
Although there has been no official statement made as to what a deal may be worth, according reports by MarketWatch earlier this week, Orange has made an offer totalling €10bn ($10.9bn), a submission comprising €8bn in shares and €2bn in cash.
A confidentiality agreement between Orange and Bouygues means that detailed comment from either party has thus far been thin on the ground, but in a statement an Orange spokesperson said that “discussions are not limited by any particular calendar and hold no commitment to any particular predefined outcome".
Furthermore, Orange indicated that it was “exploring the opportunities available within the French telecoms market, while keeping in mind that its investments and its solid position afford it a total independence in its approach".
In an equally sparse statement, Bouygues related that it was “interested in opportunities that would enable it to bolster its long-term presence in the telecoms sector” and would “invest momentum” within a sector which it believes must remain strong to serve the best interests of the consumer.
Much of the merger talk is believed to be due to the disruptive effects of a price war sparked by the entry of a fourth mobile operator – Free Mobile (owned by Iliad SA) – into the French market in 2012. Orange, by way of acquiring Bouygues, hopes to reduce competition, allowing it to invest in high-speed mobile and cable networks and compete with their counterparts in the US and Japan.
However, within a highly fragmented European cellphone market, any attempt at a merger by Orange (the biggest operator in France with 28 million customers) and Bouygues (the third biggest operator with 14 million customers) will require the approval of antitrust authorities and involve the disposal of significant assets.
Should the move by Orange to acquire Bouygues come to pass, analysts believe that the combined company’s market capitalisation could reach €50bn – around 20 percent more than the current value of Orange.
Keeping its cards close to its chest, Orange also stated that it will act solely in the interests of its shareholders, its employees and its customers and be particularly vigilant with regards to the value created through any resulting project.