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City Republic: Is the number up for the mobile market?

LONDON - Mobile looks shaky as Vodafone took a hammering on the markets, writes Stephen Foster, while Charles Allen looks to take the knife to GCap.

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Is the mobile boom over?
Investors in Vodafone seem to think so as the shares tumbled yesterday as its profits came in at the bottom end of expectations.

The company still made £9.8bn in the quarter to end June, so it's hardly on its uppers, but the shares in London fell nearly 20%.

Just as with Marks & Spencer's recent dramatic share slide on news that its food sales had slipped back, this looks overdone and may indicate the presence of the dreaded "short sellers" in Vodafone.

But mobiles are consumer products like any other and there is evidence that consumers are cutting back; changing their sim cards rather than the whole handset.

Vodafone is making more and more money from selling devices like "dongles" which plug into your laptop but many analysts think these will never be as profitable as handsets.

And Vodafone has always traded at the premium end of the market, building on its original base in the corporate market.

But companies are shopping around now too and rivals like O2 are cheaper.

Vodafone's ills (if indeed that's what they are) dragged the whole London market down even as France, Germany, the US and much of the Far East rallied on the growing feeling that we might have seen the worst of the banking sector problems and, later last night, another sharp fall in the price of oil.

Oil was trading at $125 at one stage, down from a peak of $147.

Bad news for those hedge funds that piled in to drive the price sharply upwards just a couple of weeks ago.

Back in London it wasn't the best day for outgoing Vodafone CEO Arun Sarin either. But with nearly 270m customers worldwide and a big stake in the rapidly growing Indian market, he will probably console himself with the thought that it was just one of those days in the City.

Global Radio sharpens its axe
Global Radio's £375m takeover of Capital Radio owner GCap hasn't even gone through yet and already the redundancies are starting to mount.

Things will no doubt get worse before they get better at what will be the UK's biggest commercial radio outfit. But will they get better?

Followers of Global chairman Charles Allen will recognise the pattern: Plan A is cost cutting and there probably isn't a Plan B.

This is what happened during his reign at ITV and, before that, with Gerry Robinson at Granada.

Global Radio may indeed end up with a dominant share of the commercial radio market, but radio is less of a "must have" for media buyers than ever.

Even the likes of Capital (whose great days are far behind it) and Classic FM don't stack up too well against the BBC's three (non-commercial) channels, Radios 1,2 and 4.

In fact if Radio 3 wasn't so relentlessly highbrow there might not even be a Classic FM.

There is now hard evidence that UK advertising is slowing sharply with the Daily Mail & General Trust announcing today that ad revenue at its national papers fell 3% in the last quarter while its local papers dropped back 11%.

The company still managed to lift total revenues 5%, led by Euromoney and the websites, which is a pretty stunning performance in the circumstances.

But it clearly outlines the imminent danger facing traditional media owners. Which is no doubt why Global is sharpening its axe.

Those gimlet-eyed punters John Magnier, JP McManus and Michael Tabor who backed Allen's Global Radio grab might be feeling uncharacteristically nervous.

Discounters surge in grocery market
New figures from TNS show that German discounters Aldi and Lidl are surging ahead in the grocery market, with last quarter sales up 19.5% and 14.3% respectively.

Tesco and Sainsbury's actually lagged the market with sales up 6.5% and 5.6%.

Even so, the market as a whole was up a pretty healthy 7%, which suggests that the British consumer isn't on starvation rations yet.

This may encourage big Sainsbury's investor the Qatar Investment Authority, which tried to buy the company at 600p a share a year ago and has recently increased its stake to 26%.

Sainsbury shares rose 13 yesterday to 310p suggesting that the QIA might be back for a second bite.

Bankers dust off bid plans
London (led by Barclays and the hitherto friendless HBOS), Paris and Frankfurt all opened strongly this morning suggesting that a little confidence is returning to the markets.

There is still a wall of money accumulated in the good times out there looking for a home (some of it is now coming out of the oil market).

In such circumstances, the ever-eager investment bankers will be looking for a big deal or three to try to restore their fortunes (and bonuses).

Sainsbury's may or may not be one of them. Could some brave bank make a bid for HBOS, whose shares have halved in the six weeks of its £4bn rights issue?

After all, it's now stuffed full of money and cheap.

Stephen Foster is a former news editor of Campaign, former editor of Marketing Week and Evening Standard ad columnist. He is a partner in Editorial Partnership and writes the blog www.editco.net and Politics of the Media for Brand Republic.

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