Altice increases its ownership of BT shares to 24.5%

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Patrick Drahi-owned Altice UK has announced it has increased its holding of shares in UK operator group BT to almost a quarter, but still doesn’t intend to make a full acquisition bid.

The latest purchase was of 650 million shares, which took Altice’s total holding to 24.5%, up from 18%. That previous threshold was subject to a UK government probe last year, which concluded that Drahi’s involvement in the company doesn’t present a national security risk. It may decide this deserves a further look but it’s hard to see how the current situation is substantially different.

While Altice is only compelled to make an acquisition bid when its shareholding reaches 30%, such a substantial stake still requires some set-piece reassurances as defined by Rule 2.8 of the takeover code. Accordingly Altice restated that it does not intend to make an offer for BT, barring certain exceptional circumstances such as an invitation to do so from the BT board or someone else tries to acquire the company.

“Increasing its stake out of the blue will certainly raise eyebrows,” said TMT Analyst Paolo Pescatore. “This could be seen as a strong endorsement of BT’s strategy given the relentless drive of rolling out fibre. BT under Jansen is a different organisation and the strategy is working, so far. He has helped navigate the group through a difficult period.”

It’s anyone’s guess why a major industry figure like Drahi would want such a substantial stake in another telco. It presumably grants him a fair bit of influence at the top table but, as Vivendi found out with TIM, that is an unstable position. He does seem to be part of a broader trend of telco insiders taking major stakes in UK telco groups, as illustrated by e&’s growing interest in Vodafone.


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