Indian telecommunications colossus Bharti Airtel has sold off its stake in tower unit Infratel in an effort to reduce the company’s debt. It has been reported that a consortium of investors acquired the stake for a fee of around INR61.9bn ($952m) which represented Bharti Airtel’s 10.3% stake in the tower unit. The consortium of investors was spearheaded by private equity company KKR and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board.
It has been claimed that the same consortium of investors had expressed an interest in acquiring a significant stake in Infratel back in October 2016 – following the decision by Bharti Airtel’s board to approve selling off a proportion of the unit. Reports had surfaced at the beginning of the month which suggested that Airtel had withdrawn its initial plans to sell a controlling stake in the tower business in favor of disposing of around 22%. Now, following the confirmation of the sale – Airtel’s holding stake in Bharti Infratel has now been reduced to 61.7%.
The telco subsequently issued a stock exchange filing explaining that the proceeds raised from the sale of its stake will be distributed to pare back the company’s debt. Airtel chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal expressed his delight at the investment by the consortium and declared that it represents a clear indication of confidence from global investors in Digital India’s initiative – and the telecom infrastructure sector as a whole. He said: “This investment by a consortium of marquee, long-term investors underlines the confidence of the global investors in India’s growth story and the government’s Digital India initiative in particular. It further reinforces the positive outlook for the telecom infrastructure sector.”
Airtel’s sale comes hot on the heels of the Competition Commission of India’s decision to clear a deal from rival telco Reliance Communications to sell off a 51% stake in its tower business to Canadian investment company Brookfield Group. Earlier this week, The Supreme Court in India ordered mobile operators to re-verify the IDs of all of its subscribers – which is expected to cost operators around $153m.