Bharti – MTN: The making of a Telecom Behemoth
The Indians are going places and they are doing it fast and furious. The case in point is Bharti which has now emerged as a front-runner for equity stake in South African MTN. This would make Bharti-MTN the 4th largest Telecom Operator in the world leap frogging big names such as Verizon, AT&T and the likes. Only the Chinese Telcos would have more subscribers than Bharti MTN. One of the most important reasons for Bharti to emerge as a frontrunner for equity stake in MTN is its leadership position in the Indian Telecom market.
After almost an year, India’s Bharti Airtel and South Africa’s MTN Group are back to the talking table. The duo have restarted merger talks to create $20 billion telecom entity. In fact, at a time when global giants are complaining about a cash crunch and putting ambitious plans on hold, Bharti Airtel has relaunched its audacious merger bid with MTN that could create a $61-billion transnational telecom Goliath with combined revenues of $20 billion and over 200 million subscribers across Africa, Asia and Middle East.
The Bharti-MTN deal, if it goes through, will usher in the next round of the Indian telecom M&A story. At an estimated ticket size of $23 billion, this will be the biggest cross-border deal that India Inc has been involved in, and twice as much as what British telco Vodafone paid to acquire a little over half of Hutchison Telecom International’s Indian operations in early 2007.
The Proposed $23-29 bn deal would be biggest ever M&A transaction involving an Indian company, almost double the previous highest of $13bn paid by Tata Steel for Corus. It would be the third largest deal in the world in 2009 so far, after Pfizer’s $64bn buyout of Wyeth and Merck’s $46bn deal with Schering-Plough Excluding pharma, Bharti-MTN deal would be the largest in world this year so far. Bharti-MTN’s combined subscriber base of 200m would make it the world’s 4th-largest telecom entity, and largest outside China. The top 3 are China Mobile (472m), China Unicom (247m) and China Telecom (237m). If the deal goes through this time, it will make Bharti the largest telecom entity in the world (by number of subscribers) outside China. Add MTN’s 100 million subscribers to Bharti’s 100 million, and the combined figure of 200 million will see Bharti comfortably leapfrog US giants Verizon (122m) and AT&T (108m), among others.
Fund managers with exposure to Bharti feel that with the Indian telecom market showing signs of saturation, the stock-swap deal will be critical for the company’s next phase of expansion. The deal is a good opportunity for Bharti to enter into a lesser-penetrated market like Africa, especially when the company is generating free cash flows.The valuations that have been offered by Bharti may be at a premium to MTN’s share price, but its valuations are cheaper than Bharti’s.