India’s Reliance Industries has poured cold water on talk that it could launch a buyout for BT (BT.A). Shares in the UK telco surged by as much as 9% in early trading on Monday but those gains were pared after the denial by Reliance Industries was reported by Reuters.

The speculation emerged from a report from the Economic Times, India’s leading financial newspaper. It said that billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s conglomerate may try to gain a controlling share in BT, or that it may propose a partnership with BT’s Openreach that would bankroll the accelerated roll-out of the UK’s fibre broadband network.

Reliance moved quickly to nip the market gossip in the bud, saying ‘we categorically deny any intent to bid for the UK telecoms group, BT,’ Reliance said in a statement before launching an attack on the newspaper.

‘The article is completely speculative and baseless. We expect greater diligence and verification of facts before publishing such articles,’ Reliance said.

While BT shares eased back in response to the Reliance statement, they continued to head the FTSE 100’s leader board at 11.30am on 29 November, rallying nearly 7% to 164.45p.

BT’s share price has risen around 16% in November amid consolidation talk.

TELCO CONSOLIDATION

The latest signs of industry consolidation emerged last week when Telecom Italia found itself on the receiving end of a bid approach from private equity buyout firm KKR that valued the heavily indebted Telecom Italia at £9.3 billion.

KKR’s move for Telecom Italia followed interest from France’s Vivendi, AT&T of the US, and Spain’s Telefonica. Two profit warnings in three months rendered it vulnerable to predatory interest.

There has been a lot of speculation about a possible takeover of BT in recent months after Patrick Drahi, the French billionaire and founder of Altice, began building up a position earlier this year.

As reported by Shares last week, Drahi currently owns a 12.1% stake in BT, which he bought this summer, making him BT’s largest shareholder ahead of Deutsche Telekom which owns 12.06%, a stake Drahi has said he would be interested in acquiring.

In June, the telecoms tycoon promised that Altice would not bid for BT for at least six months under UK takeover rules, an agreement which expires on 10 December.

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Issue Date: 29 Nov 2021