Update on Airtel-MTN talks this week; MTN board meet on Aug 18

Update on Airtel-MTN talks this week; MTN board meet on Aug 18 New Delhi: Bharti Airtel and South Africa's MTN are likely to announce the status this week of the proposed merger to create a USD 23-billion entity as period for exclusive talks between them expired on July 31.

The telecom majors could not come to any conclusion in their exclusive talks, started on May 25 for a possible share swap deal between the two firms, said market sources.

Recently, Corporate Affairs Minister Salman Khursheed had said that any proposal to change the equity shareholding of the company would require the government's approval. Bharti Airtel officials remained tight-lipped on whether the deal was on and the period would be extended or whether talks had collapsed.

Neither Bharti nor MTN issued a statement about the present status of the dialogue.

Sources said MTN board may meet on August 18 to discuss the emerging situation. An email questionnaire sent to MTN remained unanswered.

Sidhharth Behura, Secretary in the Department of Telecom, had maintained that there is no deal as yet, so there is no question of seeking any information from them. And also they do not require any approvals for FDI up to 74 percent.

Analysts said the silence of the firms so far indicates the negotiations are hitting some points of disagreement.

Azmi Mikati, chief executive of the M1 Group -— one of the largest shareholders in MTN-- had reportedly said talks would "most probably" be extended till August-end as the deal was complex and involved multiple jurisdictions.

Lebanon’s Mikati family controls about 10 percent of MTN through the M1 Group. Mikati is also a non-executive member on the MTN board.

Bharti will have to make a net cash payment of around USD 4 billion to acquire a 49 percent stake in MTN, which, in turn, will get a 36 percent economic interest in the Indian firm.

Sources said many MTN shareholders complained that the price was not high enough. So, the deal may have to be sweetened to appease them.

If the deal goes through it will create a USD 61 billion (in terms of market cap) telecom goliath with combined revenues of USD 23 billion and over 200 million subscribers across Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

Bureau Report