Sunil Mittal led Bharti Airtel Ltd, which is facing intense competition on the home turf from billionaire Mukesh Ambani-owned Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd, is raising close to $1.25 billion from six marquee investors including SoftBank Group International and Warburg Pincus by diluting a stake in Airtel Africa. The proceeds would help the telecom operator to bring down Airtel Africa’s current debt of about $5 billion and use for growth of its African operations, according to a statement on Wednesday.
Apart from Softbank and private equity firm Warburg Pincus, Singapore-based Temasek Holdings and Singtel Telecommunications and two other investors will invest by subscribing to new shares, it added. The transaction, however, will not involve any sale of shares by existing shareholders.
Post this transaction, the equity value of the African unit will be about $4.4 billion. While Bharti Airtel will own about 65% equity stake in African business, the rest will be held by new investors and minority shareholders. Even as the Indian business under pressure, Bharti Airtel continues to expand its footprints in Africa through local deals over the past few years. In the recent past, it made three acquisitions in Kenya, Uganda and Congo Brazzaville.
“The transaction will help us further deleverage our balance sheet and boost our capacity to upgrade networks, expand coverage in different markets and achieve rapid growth of Airtel Money across our operations,” Raghunath Mandava, managing director and CEO, Airtel Africa, said in the statement.
The company is also planning a subsequent fundraising through the initial public offering (IPO) and use the proceeds primarily for further reduction of debt, it added. On February 14, Bharti Airtel had announced to list its Africa unit.
Bharti Airtel, which is locked in a fierce price war since the entry of Reliance Jio in 2016, has been trying to bring down its debt burden as well monetise its non-core assets. It has a consolidated debt of about Rs 1 lakh crore as of June 2018 and majority of its debt its due to the African business acquisition back in 2010. This will be Bharti Airtel’s third attempt to pare stake in operations other than India wireless business. Earlier, it diluted its holding in its tower arm Bharti Infratel Ltd. and then 15% stake sale in its DTH business to private equity firm Warburg Pincus.
Notably, Bharti Airtel marked its forway in Africa in 2010 with the acquisition of Kuwait-based Zain Telecom’s Africa operations for a whopping $10.7 billion. In December 2017, the telecom major’s chairman Sunil Mittal admitted that his decision to enter into African market 9 years ago have been ‘a bit rushed’ and one of his greatest regrets, as the energy and time to turn around the African business could have been spent growing its business on the domestic turf where it is facing brutal competition.
Financial performance of Airtel Africa, which is among the top two operators in most of the markets in which it operates in the continent, continues to improve as it has turned positive in terms of net profit as well as operating free cash flow. It has also posted healthy revenue growth in its voice and data services.