Crisil downgrades Bharti Airtel credit ratings

Crisil downgrades Bharti Airtel credit ratings New Delhi: Rating agency Crisil has downgraded telecom major Bharti Airtel's rating after the government imposed a one-time fee for spectrum it holds beyond a threshold.

"CRISIL has downgraded its ratings on Bharti Airtel long-term debt programmes and bank facilities to 'CRISIL AA+/Stable' from 'CRISIL AAA/Negative'. The rating on the company?s shortterm debt and bank facilities has been reaffirmed at 'CRISIL A1+'," the agency said its rating statement on Thursday.

The agency is of the view that Bharti Airtel's gearing will not improve significantly as on March 31, 2013, despite an equity infusion through an initial public offer (IPO) in its subsidiary, Bharti Infratel.

"Furthermore, potential cash outflows towards one-time spectrum fees and licence renewal fees are likely to result in its capital structure taking longer to improve than CRISIL's previous expectations," CRISIL said.

The government has imposed Rs 5,201 crore one-time spectrum fee on Bharti Airtel for spectrum that the company was allocated apart from the airwaves that it received bundled with licence.

The agency,however, said that Airtel's operating performance in India is expected to improve on the back of its strong market position, healthy operating efficiencies, and expectation of reduced competition.

The agency said that despite intense competition, Bharti Airtel's Indian operations witnessed a moderate growth of 7.6 percent in its subscriber base to 185.9 million as on September 30, 2012, from 173 million as on September 30, 2011.

"The company reported a strong operating margin of around 32.2 percent in the first half of 2012-13. Its average realised revenue per minute has remained stable at about Re 0.44," CRISIL said.

The agency said that debt levels on the company remained higher than CRISIL expectations at Rs 70,500 crore as on September 30, 2012, as against Rs 69,000 crore as on March 31, 2012.

For Bharti Airtel's Africa business, CRISIL said it expects the bsuiness to gradually improve its operating efficiency driven by steady improvement in the utilisation of network.

PTI