JPMorgan unit to scout India market for AT&T

JPMorgan unit to scout India market for AT&T

Mumbai: Phone firm AT&T Inc. has engaged the services of a Mumbai unit of JPMorgan Chase Bank NA as investment counsel to scout the Indian market for telecom assets to buy, a person familiar with the appointment said.

AT&T—whose chairman, Randall Stephenson, rued the company’s 2004 exit from India in an interview with Mint in July last year—badly wants to re-enter India, the world’s fastest growing and second largest phone services market by customers.

The India interest at the firm, headquartered in Dallas, Texas, in southern US, comes on the heels of recent telecom acquisitions here by NTT DoCoMo Inc., Telenor ASA and Emirates Telecommunications Corp.

An AT&T spokesman in Hong Kong said his firm does “not comment on rumours or speculation".

A JPMorgan spokeswoman in India declined comment.

Separately, shares of Reliance Communications Ltd, India’s second largest mobile phone operator, gained in Mumbai trading after a newspaper reported that overseas phone companies were in talks to buy a stake in the Indian phone operator.

In an after trading hours filing with the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE), Reliance Communications clarified that “the company has been receiving various proposals from time to time from reputed international telecom companies expressing interest in acquiring a strategic equity stake in it. The company evaluates such proposals in line with the company’s policy to constantly endeavour to enhance overall shareholder value in the best interests of over two million shareholders".

Foreign telecom companies have approached Reliance Communications to acquire between 20% and 26% stake, The Economic Times reported, citing an unidentified banker.

The phone firm’s shares climbed the highest since 4 November—up 6.4% to Rs243.10 in Thursday morning trades, and ended at Rs239.90 each, 4.8% higher than previous close on BSE, whose benchmark index fell 0.1%.

In 2004, after AT&T Wireless’ merger with Cingular Wireless, the latter decided to sell its 32.9% stake in Idea Cellular Ltd, a year after another unit exited BPL Mobile Communications Ltd the previous year.

AT&T has a licence to operate national and international long distance phone services in India. It had applied for a mobile phone service early this year.

Shauvik Ghosh of Mint and Bloomberg’s Harichandan Arakali contributed to this story.