Vodafone shareholders have voted almost unanimously to approve a £51bn cash and shares windfall from the sale of Verizon Wireless, giving the green light to the largest single return of value to investors in corporate history.
Analysts say the payout, approved by 99.61% of votes cast, will inject a sum larger than Britain's annual defense budget into the global economy, with an estimated £18bn flowing back to the UK, where more than a third of Vodafone shareholders are based.
Verizon Wireless, America's largest mobile phone company, is a joint venture between Verizon and U.K.-based Vodafone, but both partners have been seeking for years to change that. They announced a deal last September for Verizon to use both cash and stock to buy Vodafone's 45 percent stake.
As part of the deal, Vodafone shareholders worldwide will receive an estimated £15bn in cash and a further £36bn in the shares of Verizon Communications.
"This is the largest ever single return of value to shareholders and, in our view, rewards our shareholders for their long-term support of Vodafone's US strategy," the chairman, Gerard Kleisterlee, told a gathering of investors.
Meanwhile Verizon Communications shareholders have pushed forward the full buyout of Verizon Wireless from Vodafone, voting to approve the issuance of stock to Vodafone Group shareholders.
A "substantial majority" of Verizon shareholders voted in favor of issuing as many as 1.28 billion Verizon shares as part of the takeover.
By owning both its wired and wireless businesses outright, Verizon hopes to have more financial flexibility to invest in new technologies and offer more tightly integrated services. The carrier's chief rival, AT&T, is both a wireline and mobile operator.
Analysts believe Vodafone may use the proceeds from the sale to buy more companies in Europe (see Vodafone and Liberty Global gearing up for £6 billion bidding war over Ono, Spain ).
But the company might become a takeover candidate itself if rumors of an offer by AT&T materialize. On Monday, in response to a query from U.K. regulators, AT&T said it doesn't intend to bid for Vodafone in the next six months. But if another company tries to buy Vodafone, AT&T could jump in immediately.