Great British sell-off: Two of UK’s best-known companies shake up their businesses as crisis-hit firms are forced to slim down
Two of Britain’s best-known companies have unveiled plans to shake up their businesses in a bumper sell-off.
Centrica, the owner of British Gas, will dispose of its US energy arm to local firm NRG Energy for £2.85billion.
The move allows Centrica to pay off debt and bolster its pension scheme, though it effectively extinguishes international expansion plans.
Telecoms giant Vodafone is plotting to float its European masts business in Frankfurt next year.
Boss Nick Read refused to put a price tag on the listing, saying only that it would be ‘lower’ than £9billion.
The plans will allow Centrica and Vodafone to slim their companies at a time when firms across almost all industries are scrambling to cut costs to survive the pandemic.
Centrica and Vodafone’s moves come days after US retailer Walmart revived talks to sell a stake in British grocery chain Asda. It hit the pause button on the sale in April when stock markets were in turmoil.
Walmart, which has around 11,500 stores under various names in 27 countries, is in talks with ‘a small number of third-party investors’.
However, it cautioned there was ‘no certainty’ it would strike a deal for the chain, which is the UK’s third-largest supermarket.
Walmart previously planned to sell Asda to Sainsbury’s for £7.3billion – but that was blocked by UK regulators last year.
Centrica’s decision to sell Direct Energy, which supplies around 4m homes with power, came as it reported it had lost another 226,000 UK home energy customers in the first half of the year.
It more than halved its loss to £264m in the six months to June – but boss Chris O’Shea admitted the company has ‘no idea’ how the rest of the year will play out.
The pandemic has hammered energy suppliers, with power demand falling near to record lows and the looming threat of fewer customers being able to pay their bills.
The sale of Direct Energy is a bright spot for beleaguered investors, who have watched Centrica fall out of the FTSE 100 and announce a restructuring that will cut 5,000 jobs to save £2billion a year by 2021. It also valued Direct Energy much higher than the £1.8billion analysts think it is worth, sending shares up by 16.8 per cent, or 6.77p, to 47.14p yesterday.
Centrica said the sale would help it focus on its ‘core’ market of the UK and Ireland.
Vodafone plans to spin off its European telecoms towers business, which will be renamed Vantage Towers, in Frankfurt after merging it with Greek company Wind Hellas’ tower assets. The details of the deal have not yet been pinned down – Vodafone is likely to keep an 80 per cent or 90 per cent stake and will be the main tenant using the masts at first. Vodafone’s revenues fell 1.4 per cent to £9.5billion between March and June, with roaming and visitor revenue in Europe diving 70 per cent as travel slowed.
Other deals in the works include Unilever’s plan to split its tea operations into two units and spin off the one containing the PG Tips and Pukka Herbs brands. And BP surprised the market in June with a deal to sell its petrochemicals business to Ineos for £4billion.