Look at it from Verizon ’ s perspective: Historically, Verizon had a very profitable landline business, and Verizon Wireless owed it billions of dollars. Verizon received Verizon Wireless ’s free cash flow as it repaid the debt. For years, Verizon used its control to try to starve VOD by refusing to allow Verizon Wireless to pay dividends. Today, Verizon’s landline business generates no cash and the debt from Verizon Wireless has been repaid. Verizon’s 55% control stake in Verizon Wireless is probably worth mo re than all of Verizon’s market capitalization, and Verizon has become wholly dependent on dividends from Verizon Wireless to fund its parent company obligations and shareholder dividends.
Excluding any contribution from Verizon Wireless, VOD stock pays a 7% dividend and trades at less than 12x cash earnings – roughly in line with other large European telecom companies. Meanwhile, VOD has never become dependent on Verizon Wireless distributions.
Given the huge valuation disparity between what the market thinks Verizon Wireless is worth to Verizon (at least a couple hundred billion dollars) and what it ascribes to VOD (about zero), combined with Verizon’s increasing dependence on Verizon Wireless, it wouldn’t surprise us if Verizon decided to buy all of VOD to gain full ownership of Verizon Wireless.It could decide to become a global telecom leader or it could spin out parts of VOD that it’s not interested in owning. Maybe there is an investment banker with time on their hands reading this letter.
From David Einhorn's fourth quarter letter.