India: Global investors approach Airtel for stake in Bharti Infratel

Bharti chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal
Sunil Bharti Mittal, billionaire, chairman and chief executive officer of Bharti Enterprises Ltd., gestures as he speaks during a panel session at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016. Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images

India’s largest telecom company Bharti Airtel Ltd Tuesday said it has been approached by a few “global investors” to acquire a significant stake in its Bharti Infratel Ltd tower unit.

If their interests are accepted, this “could result in such investors acquiring control of Bharti Infratel”, Bhart Airtel said in a statement.

The company’s committee of directors formed in 2016 to evaluate selling stake in Bharti Infratel has “recommended that such proposals be duly considered”, the company said.

Airtel owns 58% in Bharti Infratel.

The move comes a day after Airtel’s subsidiary Bharti Infratel said that it aims to buy the stake it doesn’t own in its Indus Towers Ltd unit from Vodafone India Ltd, Idea Cellular Ltd and a private equity investor.

Bharti Infratel on Monday said that its board has decided to “explore and evaluate acquisition of stake in one or more tranches in Indus Towers Ltd with the aim of making it a subsidiary or wholly owned subsidiary of Bharti Infratel Ltd”.

Indus Towers is a joint venture between Vodafone India, Bharti Infratel and Idea Cellular. Vodafone and Bharti Infratel own 42% each while Idea owns 11.15%. US private equity firm Providence owns the balance 4.85%.

Indus Towers is the world’s largest telecom tower operator with more than 123,000 towers and with Bharti Infratel’s 39,264 towers, its reach and strength will be unmatchable. After the acquisition, Bharti Infratel will control 40.8% of telecom towers in India.

According to a person aware of Airtel’s plans, Bharti Infratel will first acquire Indus Towers, which will push up its valuation, and that will be followed by a sale of Bharti Infratel itself.

Airtel in its press statement on Monday said that even as it has received interests for acquisition of Bharti Infratel, it has not entered into any agreements in relation to any such proposal or discussions and there is no certainty of any transaction until such time the board reviews and approves a final proposal.

However, the company will continue to evaluate and sell shares in Bharti Infratel independently in one or more tranches, it said.

Airtel in August had sold 67.53 million shares in Bharti Infratel to raise more than Rs2,570 crore.

In March, it sold a 10.3% stake in the tower unit to a consortium of investors to raise Rs6,193.9 crore. Funds raised during both occasions were used to pare debt.

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This article was first published on Livemint.com