Telefonica sells China Unicom stake to reduce debt

Telefonica has sold a 1.5% holding in China Unicom for €322 million while retaining a 1% stake in the Chinese number two player.

China Unicom and Telefonica signed a strategic alliance in 2009 covering M2M and handset procurement. The firms recently launched a joint venture focused on big data. The Spanish group has asserted its commitment to this partnership, but noted that the offloading of the stake represents “proactive management of its asset portfolio and its mid-term deleveraging objective”.

Telefonica began increasing its stake in Unicom following their alliance, with the holding peaking at 9.57% in 2011 before the Spanish firm sold half of these shares to Unicom itself in 2012 for $1.4 billion. In 2014 it sold half of its remaining stake, raising $854 million.

The Spanish operator has a debt of around €50 billion, giving it the dubious honour of being the second most indebted telco in Europe. It is taking steps to reduce this, including in IPO for its infrastructure business Telxius which could raise as much as €5 billion.

However, it recently had to abandon its attempt to sell its UK unit O2 to CK Hutchison in the face of EU backlash. The UK’s plans to exit the EU have currently made the market too unpredictable for it to sell O2. The company may also be considering an IPO at the end of the year.

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