Reliance Industries may look at more stake sales as it aims for zero debt

Mukesh Ambani Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Reliance Industries Ltd (RIL) may sell equity in more businesses as it aims to become a zero-debt company in the next 18 months, RIL chairman and managing director Mukesh Ambani said. Speaking at the company’s 42nd annual general meeting (AGM) on Monday, Ambani said RIL has received strong interest from strategic and financial investors for its consumer businesses—Jio (telecom) and Reliance Retail—but did not divulge further details.

RIL’s deals with Saudi Aramco and BP Plc in the past weeks will help it reduce debt. It had accumulated ₹2.88 trillion of group debt at the end of last fiscal year. The group’s debt, however, stood at ₹1.54 trillion at the end of last fiscal, after accounting for monetization of telecom infrastructure, such as telecom towers.

“We have a very clear roadmap to becoming a zero-net debt company within the next 18 months, that is by March 31, 2021. We expect to complete transactions with Saudi Aramco and BP within this financial year. These are expected to generate an inflow of ₹1.15 trillion,” Ambani said.

At the end of the last fiscal, RIL’s gross debt was at ₹2.88 trillion, or $41.6 billion. This includes stand-alone gross debt of ₹1.62 trillion, and balance in key subsidiaries, including Reliance Jio ( ₹670.18 billion), Reliance Holding USA ( ₹34,848 crore), Reliance Retail Group ( ₹12,832 crore), Independent Media Trust Group ( ₹3,045 crore), Hathway Cable and Datacom Ltd ( ₹1,973 crore), Reliance Gas Pipelines Ltd ( ₹1,379 crore) and Recron Malaysia ( ₹1,170 crore).

Cash and marketable securities were at ₹1.33 trillion, resulting in net debt of ₹1.54 trillion.

“We will induct leading global partners in these businesses in the next few quarters, and move towards the listing of both these—Jio (telecom) and Reliance Retail—companies within the next five years,” he said, adding “We will also evaluate value unlocking options for our real estate and financial investments.” With these initiatives, RIL will have one of the strongest balance sheets in the world, he said.

“As we achieve our zero-net debt target, I assure you, my dear shareholders, that we will reward you abundantly through higher dividends, periodic bonus issues, and other means, and at a more accelerated pace than any time in our history,” he said.

In a 5 August report, Credit Suisse downgraded RIL’s stock from neutral to underperform, and slashed its target price. The brokerage said given that RIL has been free cash flow (FCF) negative for six years and facing margin pressures in refining and petrochemicals, FCF is likely to be negative for fiscal 2020-21 as well.

Ambani said RIL has invested ₹5.4 trillion in the last five years for expanding and strengthening its oil to chemicals business, creating 4G wireless telecom network offering high-speed internet, and in setting up India’s largest retail chain.

“We also have large and valuable real estate assets; and have a strong portfolio of financial investments,” he said.

“On the strength of our existing and new growth engines, I am very confident that we can grow this by 15% annually over the next five years,” he added.

This article was first published on livemint.com