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AT&T and BT in talks over merging business and wireless units
Posted: 16-Sep-2000 [Source: FT]

[Discussions between AT&T and BT focus on a merger of their respective wireless businesses to form a new combined global company.]

New York and London -- "AT&T and British Telecommunications are in serious talks about merging two of their biggest businesses.

"Negotiations centre on combining the business services divisions of both companies into a stand-alone unit, along with a separate merger of their respective wireless businesses. The deal would leave BT and AT&T to focus on their domestic consumer operations.

"Such a move would effectively break both companies apart into separate consumer, business services and wireless companies.

"The far-reaching idea has been the subject of a spate of high-level meetings between executives from the US and British carriers in recent weeks.

"No formal plan has yet been agreed, however, and a series of concerns about such a complex restructuring could derail the idea, according to one person familiar with the discussions. On Friday night, BT and AT&T, one of the US's largest telecoms groups, declined to comment. Michael Armstrong, chairman of AT&T, is understood to have pushed hard for such a move as a way to revive both companies' flagging stock market fortunes. AT&T's shares have fallen nearly 50 per cent over the past six months, prompting Mr Armstrong to launch a wide-ranging review of its strategy.

"BT's shares have slipped nearly 50 per cent since the start of this year, despite a restructuring in April that was intended to restore confidence in the company. BT executives are understood to be more cautious about the proposal than their US counterparts, however.

"If the stock market did not issue a strong vote of confidence in the idea by pushing up BT's shares, it could leave the company vulnerable to an unwanted takeover, according to one person familiar with the talks.

"Separate mergers of their business services and wireless divisions would effectively involve a break-up of both AT&T and BT. Business customers accounted for $14bn of AT&T's $32bn of revenues in the first six months of this year. BT, meanwhile, has created a separate division, known as Ignite, to handle its fast-growing international data services.

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