Reliance Jio, Airtel plan $6 billion warchest for telecom slugfest
Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Jio plans to sell telecom bonds as much as Rs20,000 crore, while Sunil Bharti Mittal controlled Airtel has approval to raise Rs16,500 crore
Mumbai: Companies owned by billionaires Mukesh Ambani and Sunil Bharti Mittal may raise as much as Rs36,500 crore ($5.6 billion) selling bonds as the telecom titans build a war chest in what investors hope will be the home stretch in India’s bruising tariff war.
Mittal-controlled Bharti Airtel Ltd, which sold its first-ever rupee bond of Rs3,000 crore last month, has approval to raise Rs16,500 crore, according to a March 12 filing. Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd announced days later that it plans to sell as much as Rs20,000 crore of notes, marking the disruptive upstart’s return to the onshore bond market after 20 months.
The fundraising amount—about 78% of the total outstanding bonds of India’s top four telecom firms—signal that the largest carrier and its rival Jio are gearing to roll out next-generation services and manage about Rs32,000 crore of debt due in the next five years. Jio stormed into the mobile-phone market in 2016 with free services that set off a tariff war and forced smaller players to merge or exit.
“After four years of intense price pain, the India telecom battle could be in its last stretch,” said Raj Kothari, head of trading at Jay Capital Ltd in London. “It’s down to the big boys and they are piling up funds for that.”
Emails sent to Bharti Airtel and Jio spokesmen seeking details on use of funds went unanswered.
Bharti Airtel said in the filing that the money would be used for treasury activities, including refinancing, and for paying off spectrum dues. Jio hasn’t specified end use, though it has significant repayments due in the next few years, data compiled by Bloomberg show.
Jio, being a new player, needs to spend aggressively to grab market share, while Bharti Airtel is investing more to retain its lead, said Mehul Sukkawala, senior director for corporate ratings at S&P Global Ratings. “This competition could move to the fibre-to-home business in the future and the related bundling of services with fibre.”
Jio secured AAA rating for 150 billion rupees of debentures last week from Crisil Ltd, a unit of S&P Global, which cited the “irrevocable and unconditional” support from parent Reliance Industries Ltd. India’s most valuable company has invested at least $31 billion in the telecom venture. Crisil rates Bharti Airtel’s rupee notes at AA+.
Bharti and Jio won’t have a problem finding buyers, Jay Capital’s Kothari said. “Both have a good pedigree. Their debt will easily get consumed.” Bloomberg
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