(Recasts with details from Verizon, analyst comment)
By Christine Murray and Marina Lopes
MEXICO CITY/WASHINGTON Nov 12 (Reuters) - AT&T Inc, seen as a frontrunner to buy some Mexican assets of billionaire Carlos Slim’s America Movil, said on Wednesday it can succeed in Mexico without doing so, possibly putting Slim’s timetable for a deal in jeopardy.
Slim said in July that six months to offload assets of Mexico’s largest wireless operator would be “slow”, but four months later, on the same day AT&T downplayed interest, Verizon said it has no interest in acquisitions in Mexico. Vodafone also has said it is unlikely to look at what Slim is offering.
Other carriers have been linked to the deal, including Japan’s Softbank, but none have admitted to holding talks. In a recent analyst call, America Movil executives said they were “not in a hurry to do the sale”.
The longer the deal takes, the longer the company is subject to tough antitrust regulations including zero interconnection rates and forced infrastructure sharing, which are already affecting its results.
America Movil, which has 70 percent of Mexico’s mobiles and more than 60 percent of fixed lines, said it would sell assets to cut market share and avoid the rules.
But AT&T, which had been seen by many analysts as the most likely buyer, said its $1.7 billion purchase of No.3 carrier Iusacell would allow it to compete without Slim’s assets.
“We believe we have found a path that gets us a nice scalable growth platform without the America Movil assets,” AT&T Chief Executive Randall Stephenson said.
“If things materialize over time and those assets look attractive we would obviously have to look at them, but we really don’t need the America Movil assets to be successful.”
The comments sent America Movil shares down 2.5 percent.
Instead, AT&T could buy No.4 carrier Nextel, which has around 2.8 million subscribers and whose parent, NII Holdings , is going through a bankruptcy process.
Stephenson said Nextel has Mexican assets AT&T would find attractive, sending shares in NII Holdings up more than 17 percent.
Citigroup analysts said on Monday Nextel has valuable spectrum in the 800 MHz band that could be used to develop a 4G LTE network.
Officials at Nextel and America Movil declined comment. (Additional reporting by Tomas Sarmiento; Editing by W Simon, Meredith Mazzilli and Peter Galloway)