News, views and commentary from the telecoms sector across emerging markets and developing countries worldwide

Saturday, 19 September 2009

M&A mystery tour: Zain, Tigo Sri Lanka, Vivendi's foray into Brazil

Zain Group: all operations up for grabs?

Over the (northern hemisphere) summer months, this blog became very preoccupied with whispers about a 'for sale' sign supposedly being slapped onto the African assets of Kuwait-headquartered mobile group Zain. So much so that an inelegant title (Zain Africa Speculation Watch) was cobbled together for what quickly became a series of articles. That series ran to no less than thirteen episodes, such was the number of conflicting rumours doing the rounds from June to August. Of late, though, this long-running tale has meandered in a new direction - towards the idea that a significant stake in the whole Zain group may be sold, not merely its operations in Africa.

A reading of media reports coming out this week suggests this is looking increasingly likely. One such comes from Tom Gara, writing for the UAE's English language newspaper, the National. Gara reports that the Kuwaiti group leading the sale has announced that it will sell its stake in Zain to a consortium of Indian and Malaysian investors. The Kharafi Group - whose other activities include construction, civil engineering and the manufacturing of consumer goods - officially owns about 10% of Zain, writes Gara, but is believed by analysts to control up to 25% of the telecoms firm through subsidiaries and associates.

Gara reports that on Tuesday this week, a Kharafi subsidiary ran an advertisement in Kuwaiti newspapers, inviting investors owning fewer than 300,000 Zain shares to participate in the sale. "We hope that this preserves the rights and interests of small shareholders and gives them priority," the advertisement said.

What of the prospective purchasers? Gara describes them as a consortium led by India’s Vavasi Group and backed by Malaysian billionaire Syed al Bukhary. This consortium has apparently indicated that a purchase price has yet to be confirmed.

Gara also states that "two large Indian state-owned telecommunications companies that were originally listed as members of the consortium have since denied making any decision on the deal." Regular readers will surely know that this refers to MTNL and BSNL. The latter, says Shauvik Ghosh of Indian business newspaper Mint, writing earlier this week, may not want to pick up a stake in Zain because of an urgent need to hold on to its cash to maintain interest earnings, to pay for 3G spectrum and to fund an ongoing restructuring programme critical for long-term profitability. The last point certainly chimes with the critical analyses of BSNL's performance reported here at DTW.

The Mint article also quotes analysts who are similarly critical of the state of BSNL. One of these, who remains anonymous, warns that the public sector telco would be advised to stay away from the Zain stake purchase. "BSNL has a lot of cash on its books but it lacks the ability to execute," he says. "Africa is not a market for an operator to just add some revenue to its balance sheet. They have to first show that they can execute in India with the opportunities already in front of them like broadband and 3G before they can venture into bigger game like Zain."

One foreign adventure which certainly seems not to be on the cards for BSNL is its mooted purchase of the Millicom International Cellular operation in Sri Lanka. On Wednesday, India's Economic Times carried the news that the state-owned firm had bid for the Tigo-branded cellco. By Friday, the Business Standard was reporting that this bid had been rejected. "They have not considered our bid", BSNL Chairman Kuldeep Goyal told a reporter. "We had quoted a value [that] we thought was appropriate but it has fallen short of their expectations."

This blog recently opined about the likely consolidation of the fiercely competitive Sri Lankan mobile market, with one possibility being that Bharti Airtel could purchase the Tigo-branded MNO - the giant Indian operator already has an operation in Sri Lanka. The recent Business Standard article also mentions rumours of Bharti Airtel's interest in the transaction - as well as interest from another prospective purchaser already present in the Sri Lankan market, Malaysia's Axiata. The only seemingly interested party still being mentioned whose presence in Sri Lanka would not lead to market consolidation is the UAE's Etisalat, which is also mentioned in the Business Standard story. Total Telecom reported on Monday that the Emirati firm has indeed submitted a bid.

Plenty of interest in Tigo Sri Lanka, then. Let's see who prevails.

What news, though, of erstwhile protagonists from the early episodes of the now-fizzled out Zain Africa Speculation Watch mini-series here at DTW? Regular readers may recall that the whole hoo-ha was initially set off by rumours of interest from French telecoms and media conglomerate Vivendi. Having heard nothing since about that the company's plans, I was interested this week to read a report from my former colleague at Informa Telecoms & Media, Mr James Middleton. While the Zain Africa business came to nothing, James writes that the French group seems to remain keen on increasing its footprint in emerging markets beyond Morocco, where it controls Maroc Telecom. Vivendi, perhaps best known by telecoms watchers for its controlling stake in French cellco and broadband player SFR, has now launched a EUR 2 billion offer for 100% of Brazilian fixed line carrier GVT, which offers VoIP telephony, corporate data, broadband, internet services and pay TV, writes James.

As of June 30, 2009, GVT had approximately 2.3 million customer lines in service, including voice, broadband, data and VoIP services. It is one of the smaller players competing against giants like Oi, América Móvil and Telefónica.

So, after wandering across Africa, South Asia and South America, here concludes another whistle-stop tour of telecoms M&A stories from emerging markets. Let's see which of these has further to run.


1 comment:

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    Pablo from Argentina


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