With increasing speculation that T-Mobile US could look to combine with Sprint, Deutsche Telekom has made a move that may show it is at least thinking about possibilities for selling its T-Mobile stake.
The German carrier, which holds a majority stake in T-Mobile, has shifted its U.S. holdings from Germany to a Netherlands subsidiary, according to a regulatory filing. BTIG Research analyst Walter Piecyk notes that the Netherlands has a more favorable tax treatment of asset sales.
“Vodafone held its stake in Verizon Wireless in the Netherlands and is expected to have a very ‘tax-efficient’ transaction in the sale of those shares,” Piecyk said in a research report on Thursday. “This move could increase the speculation that Deutsche Telekom might be a willing seller.”
The big question — beyond whether the parties themselves can reach a deal — is whether a Sprint-T-Mobile combination could pass regulatory muster. The Federal Communications Commission took a dim view of AT&T’s plans to buy T-Mobile a couple of years back and it is unclear that they would be okay with any deal that reduces the number of major players from four to three.
“A Sprint acquisition of T-Mobile could give [Softbank's] Masa [Son] the scale he needs to better compete with AT&T and Verizon, which enjoy much higher margins,” Piecyk said in an email. “While a deal would be good for those companies, it might not be great news for the tech industry which relies on healthy competition to keep wireless data at affordable prices and Internet usage high.”
Update: Deutsche Telekom denied the move was a precursor to a deal.
“The transaction concerns an internal reorganization of various international DT holdings,” a DT representative told Re/code. “It does not affect the actual stake in the companies. And there is no connection at all to any possible M&A moves.”