Mumbai: Bharti Airtel is not looking to sweeten its offer to buy a stake in South Africa’s MTN, the Indian firm’s head said in a media interview, even as MTN shareholders have said they want a better price.
Bharti and MTN, which have been in exclusive talks since May aimed at creating the world’s No. 3 mobile firm, on Thursday said they were extending the talks till 30 September, which analysts and investors said could be because of pricing issues and a complexly structured deal.
“We are not really looking at sweetening the deal,” Bharti Airtel chairman Sunil Mittal told ET Now television in an interview, excerpts of which were reported by the Economic Times newspaper before its full screening.
“There are no contentious issues over the deal structure,” Mittal said.
“We are looking at administrative issues, the process of seeking permissions and working towards a scheme of arrangement that is acceptable to all.”
Some MTN shareholders, including South Africa’s Public Investment Corporation which holds about 21% of MTN, have indicated they expect a higher price from Bharti as they feel it should pay a bigger premium for effective control of MTN.
Mittal told the paper the framework of the deal would be in line with the structure announced on 25 May.
Shares in Bharti Airtel, valued at about $31 billion, were up 1.7% in a Mumbai market that was up 0.6% at 0754 GMT. On Thursday, Bharti shares fell 1.2%, underperforming the broader market that gained 1.4%
Bharti and MTN are negotiating a $23 billion complex cash and share swap deal aimed at an eventual full merger. The two companies had also held talks more than a year ago, but they broke down over who would control a merged entity.
The companies have extended their exclusive talks twice this year after negotiations were revived. They had earlier extended talks by a month to 31 August.
“Complexity seems to be one of the key culprits for the further extension,” Morgan Stanley analysts wrote in a report on Thursday after the firms said they were extending talks.
“Our concern though is the longer the wait the more of a potential sweetener may be required as attention switches to 2010 earnings rather than 2009,” they said.
Mittal said in the interview he was “very hopeful” of a deal before the new 30 September deadline.
The newspaper, citing an unnamed person it said was familiar with the matter, said the deal could be done by mid-September.
“In all cross-border transactions of this nature, it takes time to complete documentation and due diligence,” Mittal said.
“I am very hopeful of a deal before that (30 September). But it’s never done till it’s done. In deals of this nature and size, there is never complete certainty,” he said.
A Bharti spokesman told Reuters he had nothing to add beyond the statement released on Thursday. Bharti holds its shareholders’ annual meeting at 1000 GMT on Friday.