REUTERS – A year after Reliance Communications said it had received several offers for its towers business, India’s No.2 mobile phone carrier by users said on Monday regulatory clarity would help push a deal along.
Reliance Communications, controlled by billionaire Anil Ambani, has long been trying to raise funds by selling the tower assets to help cut its debt load, which was $7 billion as of March.
“Once clarity emerges on various pending regulatory issues, then (the) transaction will proceed further,” Punit Garg, a president at the company, told analysts on a conference call to discuss its fourth-quarter earnings.
After scrapping a plan to list its tower arm, and then a failed attempt in late 2010 to combine the unit with India’s GTL Infrastructure, Reliance Communications has been looking to sell its 95 percent stake in the business.
“We continue to engage with potential investors in order to complete the transaction,” Garg said, without naming any potential investor.
Reliance Communications has been in talks with U.S. buyout giants Blackstone and Carlyle for several months to sell the unit for about $3 billion, sources have said, but a deal has not been sealed, due in part to differences over valuation.
While those talks have not been called off, there has been little recent progress, with the private equity firms waiting for “certain clarifications” from Reliance Communications, a separate source with direct knowledge of the matter said.
Meanwhile, a court order to revoke all mobile telecoms permits awarded in a scandal-tainted 2008 state sale to eight companies, including some of Reliance Communications’ clients, has clouded the outlook for a tower industry which gets its revenue from leasing infrastructure to carriers.
Carriers whose licences are being revoked have a last chance to win them back by bidding in a state auction due by the end of August.
It is unclear how many carriers will actually bid in the auction. The industry is protesting the proposed auction rules and what carriers say is a steep base price. A ministerial panel will decide the rules before the auction.
Reliance Communications also plans to list its undersea cable assets in Singapore in an IPO sources have said could raise about $1 billion, and the proceeds from the IPO would be used to reduce the parent’s debt.
Reliance Communications on Saturday reported a surprise jump in fourth-quarter net profit, its first increase rise in 11 quarters, helped by a sharp fall in costs and a tax gain.
The company, which has lagged rivals Bharti Airtel, Vodafone’s (VOD.L) local unit and Idea Cellular (IDEA.NS) in key operating metrics in recent quarters, also has the highest leverage among peers.
Reliance Communications’ net debt is 5.5 times operating profit, compared with less than three times for both Bharti and Idea. Shares in Reliance Communications, valued at about $2.5 billion, rose as much as 4.7 percent on Monday before paring gains to end the day 2.9 percent higher.
(Reporting by Devidutta Tripathy in NEW DELHI and Indulal PM in MUMBAI; Editing by Tony Munroe)