Vodaphone shares continue slide, fall 4 percent

Growth of subscribers in U.S. is disappointing


LONDON - The Vodafone Group, a wireless favorite among investors, has lost a bit of its luster of late.

Yesterday, its shares fell nearly 4 percent, adding to a 12 percent slide this week, as analysts expressed concerns about disappointing growth of subscribers in the United States and the uncertain introduction of new wireless services in Europe.

Vodafone shares have now given back nearly all the gains accrued in a rally that began last fall. The shares closed yesterday in London down 3.7 percent, at 164.5 pence. On the New York Stock Exchange, its American depository receipts - each representing 10 shares of the British company - closed at $23.65, down 10 cents.

Shares of other European telecommunications companies also fell yesterday.

The intention of a large Vodafone shareholder to sell its stake contributed to the rapid deterioration of the share price this week, analysts said.

Banco Santander Central Hispano, which owns 1.1 billion Vodafone shares, is looking to sell the stock to raise money to cover losses related to the devaluation of the Argentine peso.

Banco Santander, Spain's largest bank, has estimated that it stands to lose nearly $3 billion almost immediately from the devaluation.

Executives from Banco Santander were not immediately available. A spokesman for Vodafone declined to comment.

Other worries weighed on Vodafone shares, analysts said, including a disappointing report from Verizon Wireless, a cell phone operator in the United States. Vodafone owns 45 percent of the venture; Verizon Communications owns the rest.

Verizon Wireless said it added 750,000 subscribers in the fourth quarter of 2001, or nearly 200,000 fewer than some analysts had expected.

In addition, some retailers have reported disappointing sales of mobile phone handsets during the important Christmas selling period.

And NTT DoCoMo, the large Japanese phone company, said this week that it would fall short of targets for subscribers to its new wireless service that offers customers a continuous connection to the Internet.

"Vodafone is the leader, and it is one of the first stocks people go to if they want to take money out of the sector," said Richard Lewis of New Star Asset Management, which owns some Vodafone shares.

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