December 3, 2013 5:28 pm

Bharti raises €750m in first euro bond by an Indian company

India’s Bharti Airtel, the world’s fourth-largest mobile operator by subscribers, has completed a €750m ($1bn) bond sale, becoming the first Indian company to raise euro-denominated debt, according to two people familiar with the deal.

The five-year bonds, offered on Tuesday via a Bharti subsidiary in the Netherlands, follow a broader trend in which larger Indian companies with global operations increasingly raise funds in international debt markets.

The bond sale comes as Bharti, which is also India’s largest mobile operator by revenue, prepares to invest in a round of Indian spectrum auctions and eyes participation in a widely anticipated period of telecoms market consolidation in Asia’s third-largest economy.

Bharti declined to comment on the deal, which is likely to pay a yield of 4.06 per cent and was prepared by consortium of six banks: Deutsche Bank, Barclays, Standard Chartered, JPMorgan, UBS, and BNP.

“This is a landmark, and one that paves the way for other companies to follow Bharti into this market,” said one banker who worked on the issue, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Despite all of the doom and gloom over India, a deal like this shows that there is real appetite to invest in well-run Indian companies.”

Randhir Singh, India head of financing at Deutsche Bank, said other Indian businesses were also likely to tap the same market in future. “The euro markets provide an efficient and consistent source of liquidity,” he said.

The euro issue is the third time Bharti has raised foreign debt this year, and follows its decision to sell a 5 per cent equity stake to an investment fund operated by the government of Qatar for $1.3bn in May.

Bharti’s fundraising drive is part of a debt refinancing programme in the aftermath of its $10.7bn acquisition of Zain telecom in 2010, one of the largest acquisitions in Indian corporate history.

But analysts said the issuance was also part of a plan to strengthen the company’s balance sheet.

“They are raising money so that they have money when the [spectrum] renewals and spectrum auctions come,” said Ankita Somani, a telecoms analyst at Mumbai-based Angel Broking.

On Tuesday, a committee of government ministers also confirmed a series of changes that would liberalise rules governing telecoms mergers in India, whose crowded and hyper-competitive market has long been seen as ripe for acquisitions.

The rules, which are likely to be formally approved by India’s cabinet before the end of the year, will permit companies to operate with higher levels of market share and more spectrum following future mergers.

But Mohammad Chowdhury, head of telecoms at PwC in Mumbai, said those expecting a series of speedy mergers were “likely to be disappointed”, because of a further rule change requiring companies to pay a surcharge on telecoms spectrum acquired in any deal.

“The damper in all of this is the introduction one-time spectrum charge which has to be paid to government, so that any spectrum is bought at market rates. There are lots of deals waiting to be done, but this rule could really spoil the party.”

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