Telco takeover frenzy as NTL-Telewest tie-up mooted

Shareholders tell bosses how to run their companies...

Shareholders tell bosses how to run their companies...

Telewest shareholders are urging the company's big cheeses to sit round a table with NTL's management and thrash out the terms of a merger. The UK cable market is currently fragmented, with no one able to extract significant profits. A merged NTL-Telewest would be better placed to take on the might of BT and BSkyB for telephony and TV services. If such a deal were to go through, a company worth £3bn would be created. That might be good news for NTL's investors, who have seen their shares plummet to just five per cent of their worth in January 2000. NTL also has debts of around $15bn. NTL's rapidly declining share price means that Telewest - while only half the size of NTL - would be the major partner in any negotiations, as it currently has double its rival's market capitalisation. An unnamed UK media analyst told the Sunday Business: "Given the synergies available from shared customer billing and service provision, the capital markets are bound to be impressed." Another unnamed individual - this time a UK fund manager - is also quoted as saying: "We think Telewest's management have the upper hand. The company is half the size of NTL in terms of assets, but double the market value." However, the newspaper believes that in the final analysis, NTL's shareholders are unlikely to give such a deal the thumbs up. They would not be happy with a merger if it left them with a much smaller stake in the enlarged group than would accrue to Telewest investors. NTL has also been linked with a takeover of ITV Digital in the last week or so.