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French billionaire Xavier Niel buys 2.5% stake in Vodafone

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The French telecoms billionaire Xavier Niel has acquired a 2.5% stake in Vodafone, citing opportunities to accelerate a “streamlining” of the London-listed group’s business.Niel, who founded the telecoms company Iliad, has taken the stake through his investment vehicle Atlas Investissement.“Atlas Investissement has identified Vodafone as an attractive investment opportunity, as per the quality of its assets portfolio and the solid underlying trends in the global telecommunications sector,” the company said on Wednesday. “Atlas Investissement is supportive of Vodafone’s publicly stated intention to pursue consolidation opportunities in selected geographies, as well as its efforts in infrastructure separation.”In February, Vodafone’s chief executive, Nick Read, confirmed it was in talks with rivals in its biggest markets.

Read has argued that the European telecoms industry needs to consolidate to create more profitable businesses that are more attractive to investors.That month Vodafone rejected an €11.25bn (£9.8bn) offer from Iliad, which operates in France, Italy and Poland, for its Italian operation.Atlas is an arm of Niel’s NJJ Holding, which owns businesses in countries including Ireland, Switzerland and Monaco.“Atlas Investissement’s view is that there are opportunities to accelerate both the streamlining of Vodafone’s footprint and the separation of its infrastructure assets, further reduce costs, improve profitability, accelerate broadband development in Germany and other geographies and enhance focus on innovation,” Atlas said.Niel joins fellow French billionaire Patrick Drahi in targeting the UK telecoms market.

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