India: Idea Cellular gets board approval for $546m QIP issue

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Idea Cellular Ltd’s board of directors has approved the issuance of equity shares worth up to Rs3,500 crore by way of qualified institutional placement (QIP) to eligible investors, the company said in a filing to the stock exchanges on Wednesday.

“The board has authorised the committee of directors to decide on the timing, price and exact quantum of equity shares to be issued,” the company said.

This comes after Idea Cellular’s 4 January announcement where the board had granted in-principle approval for issuance of further equity of up to Rs3,500 crore and had formed a committee to evaluate and recommend to the board the routes for issuing further equity.

At a meeting on 30 January, shareholders of the company had given their approval for a QIP of up to Rs3,500 crore.

Meanwhile, the promoters of Idea Cellular—Birla TMT, Elaine Investments, Oriana Investments—have already invested Rs3,250 crore to strengthen its balance sheet amid intense competition and before a planned merger with Vodafone India Ltd. Following this equity infusion by Idea’s promoters, their stake in India’s third-largest telecom operator will rise to 47.2% from 42.4% now.

The proposed capital raising by Idea, the sale of its standalone towers to American Tower Corp. and the potential sale of its 11.15% stake in Indus Towers Ltd will augment the firm’s long-term capital resources, Idea said in the statement on 4 January.

Companies in the debt-laden telecom sector have been witnessing a double whammy after the entry of Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd which brought tariffs to rock-bottom and hit the revenue streams of other operators.

Idea Cellular’s loss for December quarter more than tripled to Rs1,285.6 crore as the nation’s telecom regulator halved interconnection fees and a tariff war sparked by new entrant Reliance Jio showed no signs of abating.

Idea’s bigger rival Bharti Airtel reported a 39% fall in December quarter profit to Rs306 crore.

Bharti Airtel too is in the midst of a debt reduction drive to take on competition from new entrant Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd.

Singapore Telecommunications Ltd (Singtel) will indirectly raise its stake in Bharti Airtel Ltd by investing Rs2,649 crore in Bharti Telecom Ltd, the promoter company of Airtel, through a preferential allotment of shares, the company said in a statement on 5 February. The investment comes within two years of Singtel’s participation in Bharti Telecom’s rights issue of Rs2,500 crore, which was completed in February 2016.

With the latest round of investment, the funds raised will be used towards debt reduction, and Singtel’s total stake (along with its affiliates) in Bharti Telecom will increase to 48.9% from 47.17% currently, the statement said. The Mittal family-owned Bharti Enterprises continues to hold over 50% stake in Bharti Telecom.

As part of its debt reduction exercise, Bharti Airtel had in December announced that it, along with another group entity, will sell a combined 20% in its DTH arm, Bharti Telemedia Ltd, to private equity firm Warburg Pincus for $350 million.

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