Jeremy Steinberg
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Jeremy Steinberg in Deals, M&A and more!,

Billionaire Li Ka-Shing’s Hutchison Is in Talks to Buy UK's O2 for as Much as $15 Billion

Li Ka-shing’s Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. (13) started exclusive talks to buy O2, Telefonica SA’s (TEF) U.K. wireless carrier, for as much as 10.25 billion pounds ($15 billion) in the biggest overseas purchase by the billionaire.

The owner of the Three carrier in the U.K. will pay an initial sum of 9.25 billion pounds in cash, Hutchison said today. It may pay as much as 1 billion pounds extra after the completion of the deal, which will create the U.K.’s biggest mobile-phone operator by number of subscribers.

The U.K. is primed for more deals after wireless-market leader EE began exclusive talks to be acquired by BT Group Plc, leaving smaller carriers looking for ways to compete. O2 had been in talks about a combination with BT, and was left out after the former U.K. phone monopoly chose EE. Hong Kong-based Hutchison is stepping in just two weeks after Li announced a $24 billion plan to merge his two main holdings companies.

“They are looking for businesses that offer steady and reliable return,” said Ben Kwong, a director at the brokerage KGI Asia Ltd. in Hong Kong. “They are finding now that there are a lot of opportunities overseas, where asset prices are low with the economy not doing well.”

Telefonica shares rose 2.7 percent to 13.11 euros at 9:17 a.m. in Madrid. Hutchison added 3 percent in Hong Kong.

Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Pedestrians pass an O2 mobile phone store, operated by Telefonica SA, in London, U.K.