* Says has call options, call spread options on TI shares
* Had potential Telecom Italia stake of 15.14 percent as of Nov. 3
* Stake carries no voting rights until shares handed over
* A 5 pct stake can only be settled in cash (Adds details on options, comments)
By Valentina Za
MILAN, Nov 4 (Reuters) - French tycoon Xavier Niel dampened speculation that he is taking a strategic stake in Telecom Italia on Wednesday, saying that he had acted alone in buying call options on shares in the Italian group and that this gave him no influence over voting rights.
Niel, founder of low-cost French telecoms group Iliad , emerged last week as a potential leading investor in Telecom Italia when regulatory filings disclosed he held derivative positions relating to 15.14 percent of TI’s share capital.
That placed him immediately behind top shareholder Vivendi , the French media group that owns just over 20 percent of Telecom Italia, raising questions over the relationship between the two investors.
Italian market regulator Consob is investigating whether Niel and Vivendi are acting in concert since any proof of that would oblige them to make a full takeover offer.
Local media has speculated on whether Niel’s intentions towards Telecom Italia could clash with those of French billionaire Vincent Bollore, the chairman of Vivendi and the French group’s biggest single shareholder, who is also an influential figure in Italian financial circles.
“NJJ Holding confirms it is acting on its own behalf and not in concert with other parties,” Niel’s investment holding company said in a statement.
The comment comes after Vivendi’s chief exective Arnaud de Puyfontaine denied in a media interview on Saturday that it had any links with Niel.
The statement issued at the behest of Consob after a meeting in Rome on Tuesday between Niel and the Italian market authorities detailed the 11 derivative contracts - call options and call option spreads - that give NJJ rights to acquire shares in Telecom Italia.
“Until the shares are handed over ... the overall long position does not grant voting rights on the underlying shares, nor the possibility of influencing the exercise of such voting rights,” NJJ said.
Analysts on Wednesday said the structure of the transaction seemed to indicate that Niel’s move was more likely to be a bet on the future share price than a stakebuilding exercise.
“We believe that the probability of a bid for Telecom Italia from these two (French) shareholders, individually or together, is highly unlikely,” Haitong Research said in a note.
Shares in Telecom Italia, which rose by more than 10 percent to a seven-year high of nearly 1.3 euros last week, were down 0.2 percent at 1.26 euros by 1157 GMT. Traders said the market was disappointed that Niel held only options with the earliest exercise date set at June 2016 but that future ownership of the company remained uncertain.
“Pending the future evolution of TI’s shareholding structure, we think the speculative appeal is likely to continue to drive the share price,” Banca IMI said in a note.
NJJ said the options, held by its Rock Investment unit, were all of the European type, which can only be exercised on the date of expiry rather than at any time before the expiry. The options expire variously between June 2016 and November 2017.
Also, NJJ said it could only settle the options contracts relating to a 10 percent stake in Telecom Italia for either shares or cash, while the options on another 5 percent stake can only be settled for cash. (Additional reporting by Francesca Landini and Leila Abboud; Editing by Greg Mahlich)