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UPDATE 2-Kabel Deutschland hikes dividend as Vodafone bid looms

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

* To raise 2012/13 dividend to 2.50 euro/shr from 1.50

* Q3 adj. EBITDA 220.3 mln euros vs 219 mln expected

* Keeps 2012/13 outlook

* Shares rise 2.5 pct, outperforming sector

By Harro Ten Wolde

FRANKFURT, Feb 20 (Reuters) - Kabel Deutschland intends to hike its dividend by 67 pct and increase investment as funds became available after plans to buy peer Tele Columbus fell through.

Shares in Germany's biggest cable operator rose 2.5 percent in early trade on Wednesday amid speculation the move could be part of its strategy to deal with a potential bid from UK based mobile company Vodafone.

Kabel Deutschland said it would raise its dividend to 2.50 euros ($3.34) per share for the fiscal year ending in March, up from 1.50 euros in the previous year.

It said its failed attempt to buy peer Tele Columbus for 618 million euros would free up money for the higher dividend as well as for extra investments.

Kabel Deutschland said on Tuesday its agreement to buy the fellow cable operator was at risk due to German antitrust concerns.

Kabel Deutschland shares were up 2.24 percent higher at 68.88 at 0842 GMT, at the top of a 0.23 percent stronger sector index.

A Frankfurt-based trader said the dividend and investment hike should be seen in the light of Vodafone's potential interest.

"This seems the first poison pill to avert a Vodafone takeover," he said. "The takeover battle has started."

Kabel Deutschland on Wednesday also posted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) excluding special items for the three months ending Dec. 31, up 10 percent from the same period a year earlier to 220 million euros.

That was at the high end of analyst expectations in a Reuters poll, which ranged from 217 million to 222 million euros.

Growth was fuelled by its internet broadband as well as its television operations, Kabel Deutschland said in a statement.

Kabel Deutschland's success in the broadband market has caught the attention of Vodafone, the biggest mobile operator in Germany, and the UK-based company is considering a bid for the German company, a person familiar with Vodafone's thinking said last week.

Vodafone is mulling an offer as it is facing a squeeze between low-cost mobile challengers and telecom and cable rivals increasingly pushing discounted, all-included mobile and fixed bundles, the person said.

NO COMMENT, NO CLUE

Kabel Deutschland's Chief Financial Officer Andreas Siemen declined to comment on Wednesday when asked whether there has been any contact between the companies regarding a deal.

"The figures are solid but unspectacular in our view. The dividend increase is a positive surprise," said DZ Bank analyst Karsten Oblinger in a first reaction.

"The big question regarding the share price remains if Vodafone will come up with a bid. Here we have no additional clue so far."

Kabel Deutschland said it still aims to increase sales in the current fiscal year by between 7.5 percent and 8.5 percent and expects an adjusted EBITDA of between 855 million and 870 million euros for the period.

It also said it would invest an extra 300 million euros in the coming two years in its network.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/thomson-reuters/130220/update-2-kabel-deutschland-hikes-dividend-vodafone-bid-looms-0