Airtel Africa may raise $1 bn from stake sale, Nigeria listing on anvil

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New Delhi, May 28 (IANS) With its Indian business under heavy pressure due to intense competition, Bharti Airtel is turning to its small overseas profitable arms to save itself, as its prepares to list its Africa unit on the London Stock Exchange (LSE), which is likely to raise $1 billion (around Rs 7,000 crore).

Although Airtel has not disclosed the amount it aims to raise, industry sources pegged it at at $1 billion.

The firm plans to sell 25 per cent of new shares of Airtel Africa in the proposed initial public offering , Bharti Airtel said in a filing. Simultaneously it is also considering a listing in Nigeria, the firm said.

Airtel is seeking to raise funds in India from a recently-concluded Rs 25,000 crore rights issue to strengthen its balance sheet and expand its 4G network to stave off competition from Reliance Jio.

At the end of the quarter-ended December, Bharti Airtel had a consolidated net debt of more than Rs 1 lakh crore.

Airtel Africa last year raised $1.25 billion from six investors including Temasek Holdings Pte, SoftBank Group Corp and Warburg Pincus, valuing it at about $4.4 billion.

“Airtel Africa, a subsidiary of the company, has announced its potential intention to undertake an initial public offering for listing its equity shares on London Stock Exchange,” Bharti Airtel said.

It added that related documents have been submitted for approval to the UK Financial Conduct Authority.

Airtel Africa — which offers telecom services in 14 countries in Africa — plans to use the proceeds from issue of new shares to reduce debt. It has about 98.9 million subscribers and 14.2 million mobile money customers, with Nigeria accounting for the largest single country subscriber base.

As on December 31, 2018, Airtel Africa was the second largest mobile operator in Africa by number of active subscribers. IT recently reported its first full-year profit at $412 million for 2018-19, helped by higher data consumption and Airtel Money penetration.

Its revenue increased 5.73 per cent to $3,077 million in 2018-19 from $2,910 million a year ago.

Commenting on the planned offer, Sunil Bharti Mittal, Chairman of Airtel Africa, exuded confidence that the company is in a “strong position” to build its own capital market profile.

“Since first investing in Africa almost nine years ago, we have well leveraged our expertise in emerging markets to deliver on a clearly-defined strategy to build Airtel Africa into a market leading mobile service provider, increasingly expanding beyond voice into data services and Airtel Money.”

Mittal added that “with the recent equity investments into the business by globally recognised long-term investors, we believe that Airtel Africa is in a strong position to build its own capital market profile, allowing others to join us in a real business success story”.

The new board of directors is committed to carry forward the strong legacy of corporate governance of the parent company, Mittal pointed out.

Raghunath Mandava, CEO of Airtel Africa, said the 14 countries that the company operates in offer strong economic growth potential with young and fast-growing populations, low customer and data penetration and inadequate banking infrastructure.

These fast-growing markets provide the company a “great opportunity” to grow both telecom and payments businesses, he added.

“Immediately following admission, the company intends to have a free float of at least 25 per cent of the company’s issued share capital and expects that it would be eligible for inclusion in the FTSE UK indices.

“In addition, it is expected that up to a further 15 per cent of the offer will be made available pursuant to the over-allotment option,” the company said in its registration document.

–IANS

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