Slicing the debt risk: Billionaire Anil Ambani
INDIA’S Reliance Communications, led by tycoon Anil Ambani, agreed yesterday to sell its mobile tower arm to slash its huge debt in a deal that creates an $11bn (£7.3bn) transmission network.
Reliance Communications or RCOM, India’s No 2 mobile operator, will spin off its 50,000 transmission towers to Indian mobile phone tower operator GTL Infrastructure for cash and stock, the companies said in separate statements.
The companies did not disclose the terms of the “transformational deal” that they have approved in principle but said the combined tower business would be worth more than $11bn (£7.3bn).
The pact comes two months after Anil Ambani and older brother Mukesh Ambani, who had asserted a right of first refusal on any sales by his sibling, called a truce in a venomous feud.
The Ambanis, at loggerheads since the division of their family empire in 2005, patched up their differences in May, ending a highly public battle.
The cash infusion for RCOM will lead to a “substantial reduction” of its debt, the company said. A company spokesman declined to give details.
But a source close to the transaction told reporters the agreement would nearly halve the company’s debt to Rs180bn ($3.9bn/£2.5bn) from Rs330bn ($7.1bn/£4.7bn), giving a big fillip to its balance sheet.
RCOM said prospects for the merged tower operator were bright in India’s explosively growing cellular market, the second largest after China with 600 million subscribers.
The source said GTL Infrastructure chairman Manoj Tirodkar could hold up to 35 per cent of the merged entity while Ambani’s Reliance ADA Group would have 26 per cent with shareholders of the two firms owning the balance.
Each of Reliance Communications’ two million shareholders would get two to three shares in the merged company, the source said.
RCOM said the deal was expected to close within six months.
The combined tower operator would own more than 80,000 towers and have 10 operators leasing space, including Reliance Communications, Aircel, Etisalat DB Telecom, MTS, Uninor Telecom, Tata Teleservices, and Vodafone.
GTL right now has 32,000 towers and is the largest independent tower company in India without a holding by a mobile operator.
India has some 14 cellular players who are waging a savage price war and have been seeking to reduce capital spending by leasing mobile tower space.
Demand for tower space is expected to increase when the victors in a recent costly government licence auction start rolling out super-fast third-generation (3G) services. RCOM had raised debt to pay for 3G bandwidth in the auction.
Earlier this month, RCOM announced plans to sell up to 26 per cent stake in itself to a “strategic partner” as it seeks to raise money to fund upgrading of its networks.
The source added the 26 per cent of RCOM at current market rates would be valued at about Rs150bn ($3.2/£2.2bn) and the sale of the stake would allow the company to become debt-free, boosting its ability to increase capital spending and expand services.
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