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Vodafone boosted by growth in UK business

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Vodafone’s UK business helped drive improved performance across Europe in the first quarter, as it benefited from increasing customer numbers, price rises to contracts and higher roaming and visitor revenue.

Service revenue, a key metric that includes sales from contract payments, network use and roaming but not handsets, at the UK business picked up 6.5 per cent in the three months to June 30 from a year earlier, compared with 2 per cent growth in the previous quarter.

Chief executive Nick Read said Vodafone’s roaming and visitor figures had not returned to 2019 levels before the Covid pandemic struck, but “every quarter we get more coming back”.

“Europeans travelling within Europe are back to pre-pandemic levels,” he added, but the number of those going beyond the region had not recuperated from Covid-19.

He said Asian customers were not travelling yet “at the volume we were used to” but Americans were returning. “When people travel, they use our services more. Our volume is up.”

Overall Europe’s largest broadband provider said it was on track to deliver its full-year guidance, expecting adjusted earnings to be between €15bn and €15.5bn before interest, depreciation, tax and amortisation.

Total group revenue in the past quarter edged up to €11.3bn, from €11.1bn a year earlier, Vodafone said in a statement on Monday.

However, Read warned that soaring energy prices would increase costs for the year by a third compared with 2021.

“The biggest inflationary pressure for Vodafone is energy,” he told the Financial Times on Monday.

He said the company would have to spend an extra €100mn to hedge energy costs for the full year, on top of €200mn that it announced in May. Last year Vodafone spent €850mn on its energy costs, mostly electricity.

“But, when you see the turmoil happening around the world, we are proving to be resilient as a company, with growth in Europe and Africa,” Read added. “We are reiterating our guidance range.”

Service revenue in Germany, Vodafone’s biggest market, accounting for 30 per cent of group figures, declined 0.5 per cent in the first quarter from a year earlier, reflecting new legislation that has made it easier for customers to switch contracts.

“It’s been misfiring for a while,” said Jakob Bluestone, an analyst at Credit Suisse. “They’re still losing customers in fixed lines, but managed to halve their fixed-line customer number losses and stabilise their mobile customer figures,” he added.

“It’s a step in the right direction: it’s getting better but not where you want it to be just yet,” he added. “They should be growing their customer base a few hundred thousand a year.”

The London-listed telecoms group last year pushed into the domestic broadband market and now provides 8mn UK households with full fibre broadband. It does not own a residential fixed-line network in its home market, leasing capacity from its rivals.

Vodafone’s shares, which trimmed an earlier 0.4 per cent slide in London trading on Monday, were unchanged from Friday. They have risen 15 per cent this year.

The group has more than 25mn customers in Europe after acquiring cable networks in markets including Germany and Spain.

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