London: Aproposed $24 billion (Rs1.15 trillion) tie-up between telecom firms MTN Group Ltd and Bharti Airtel Ltd faces more regulatory uncertainty as a self-imposed deadline for the exclusivity of talks between the groups expires on 30 September.
Last week, the Securities and Exchange Board of India unexpectedly altered the country’s takeover rules, meaning that South Africa’s MTN might be required to make an offer for an additional 20% stake in Bharti.
South Africa, eager to retain MTN’s national character, has also approached Indian authorities to consider a dual-listed structure, which is not allowed under existing Indian laws. The parties have already twice extended deadlines for the talks aimed at creating an emerging markets giant with at least 200 million customers across India, Africa and West Asia.
Regulatory hurdle: An MTN mobile shop in Cape Town. Bharti Airtel and MTN have already twice extended deadlines for the merger talks. Pierre Crocquet / Bloomberg
The deal is now believed to be in the hands of politicians, who are broadly supportive of the proposal, as it is in line with a trilateral economic development initiative between South Africa, India and Brazil.
If it falls through, the parties may well look at other potential partners. Following is a look at some alternatives:
MTN’s chief executive Phuthuma Nhleko said last month MTN could buy all or parts of Kuwaiti firm Zain’s African operations if the deal with Bharti were called off.
Zain’s African operations are estimated to be worth around $10 billion. MTN and Zain have five markets in common, including Nigeria. MTN would gain from Zain’s presence in West Asia and Zain from MTN’s strength in west and central Africa. But Zain’s original plan to sell off its African assets may be abandoned if a proposed sale of a controlling stake to a consortium of telcos and investors goes ahead.
Reliance Communications Ltd, India’s second biggest mobile operator, held exclusive talks with MTN in 2008 but called them off due to a feud between Reliance’s chairman and his estranged brother that makes stake-swap deals unlikely in the near future.
Despite saying in December that it would focus on organic growth, Reliance has snapped up a few small emerging-markets assets and is believed to be considering more.
China Mobile Ltd, the world’s biggest mobile carrier by subscribers, is under pressure at home from an expensive buildout of a new, untested third-generation network that it may seek to expand to developing markets.
The company’s chief executive had said in February that economic conditions presented an opportunity for buyers of telecom assets but the group remained cautious about further international expansion.
Vodafone Group Plc, the world’s biggest mobile group by revenue, has pleased investors recently by repeatedly saying it favours in-market consolidation over ambitious emerging market buys.
The UK company already owns a majority stake in Vodacom, South Africa’s biggest mobile operator, and would be unlikely to be allowed to acquire MTN’s South African assets. But it has expressed an interest in Nigeria, a key MTN market.
Latin American firm America Movil was considered a possible target for MTN after its talks with Reliance broke down last year, and before MTN and Bharti resumed talks.
The Mexican carrier, Latin America’s biggest cellphone operator, is active in 18 countries in North, Central and South America and the Caribbean, including Brazil.
Although it is one of the few companies whose name has not been linked with Zain—perhaps because of its ongoing entanglement with MTN—Bharti could expand into several African markets with a stake in Zain or its African operations.
Zain operates in 24 countries including Saudi Arabia and Nigeria.
Its so-called One Network strategy, under which it has abolished roaming charges for users across 12 African countries, could make it a good fit for Bharti.
Kate Holton in London, Gugulakhe Lourie in Johannesburg, Devidutta Tripathy in New Delhi, Narayanan Somasundaram in Mumbai, Kirby Chien in Beijing and Doug Young in Hong Kong contributed to this story.