© Reuters.

By Geoffrey Smith 

Investing.com — Vodafone Group (LON:) stock fell by mid-morning in London on Tuesday after it forecast a year of essentially flat operating profit, weighed on by inflation.  

The U.K.’s largest mobile network provider said it expects adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization in the fiscal year just started to be between 15.0 billion and 15.5 billion euros, essentially unchanged from the 15.3 billion it on Tuesday for the year that ended in March. Free cash flow is expected to edge down to 5.3 billion euros ($5.7 billion) from 5.4 billion – still enough to cover a dividend that currently yields over 6%. 

“The current macroeconomic climate presents specific challenges, particularly inflation, and is likely to impact our financial performance in the year ahead,” chief executive Nick Read said in a statement. 

Read said the group’s targets remain unchanged from six months ago, in an implicit reference to Swedish activist investor Cevian, which has said it wants Vodafone to simplify its business model and sell off underperforming businesses. 

The board’s position has been strengthened in the last few days as the company announced that e&, the state-controlled telecoms operator of Abu Dhabi, had built a 9.8% stake in the group for around $4.4 billion, citing the group’s ‘compelling valuation’. The stock trades at less than half of its 2015 peak, after years of difficult restructuring.

The UAE-based group said it supports the board’s current strategy and wants to be a long-term shareholder.

Read held out an olive branch to Cevian in his statement, saying that the company remains on the lookout for deals, especially with regard to Vantage Towers (ETR:), the masts unit that it spun off 15 months ago. 

The FT reported last week that the company is also in talks with 3, the mobile network operator owned by Li Ka-Shing’s CK Hutchison (HK:), over a possible combination of their U.K. businesses. The U.K. is the least profitable of all Vodafone’s major businesses, with an adjusted EBITDA margin of only 21.2%. In Germany, by contrast, where it has achieved 425 million euros of merger synergies with UnityMedia two years ahead of plan, the comparable margin is over 43%.

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