According to sources, the struggling Indian telco has begun discussions with the US private equity fund and may sell a “sizeable stake” in the business
Vodafone Idea, rebranded as Vi last year, has been in the financial doldrums for a number of years now, having struggled to compete in vicious price wars with its major rivals Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel, as well as owing the government enormous sums of money for spectrum allocation and adjusted gross revenue (AGR).
In its most recent financial results, the company had managed to slow the decline, reducing its net loss from around $1.6 billion in Q4 2020 to around $939 million in Q4 2021. Other metrics, however, were less promising, with its mobile subscribers decreasing year-on-year by 23.3 million to 267.8 million, with average revenue per user (ARPU) falling by 11.6%.
Net profit was also down significantly, falling by 18.3% to around $1.58 billion, though much of this loss was anticipated, coming as a result of the removal of interconnect usage charges at the start of 2021.
Vi has said that it will target cost savings of INR40 billion (around $540 million) by the end of the year, with a spokesperson saying that 65% of this total had already been reached.
Nonetheless, the company has a significant and immediate need for outside investment. A mix of regular debt, AGR dues, and spectrum payments are due between December 2021 and April 2022, totalling around $3 billion.
Previous fundraising attempts have broadly failed, with a planned $2 billion investment from an Oak Hill-led consortium gradually falling apart at the start of this year.
Now, Vi is looking to go even bigger, with sources speaking to Economic Times suggesting that talks are currently being held with the US private equity group Apollo Global Management, aiming to raise around $3 billion over the next three months through a mix of debt and equity.
According to the anonymous sources, Vi may even be open to offering “a sizeable stake” to Apollo following the agreement of valuations and terms.
If this does come to pass, Apollo could push Vi’s other major stakeholders – Vodafone and Aditya Birla Group – to add investment of their own, something that they have been loathe to do for the past few years.
As part of the deal, or separate to it, Vi expects to raise around $1 billion from the sale of its fixed-line broadband subsidiary, optic fibre unit and data centres business, announced last week.
Meanwhile, the operator continues to fight the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) over the precise payments it owes related to AGR and spectrum. The operator has long claimed that the AGR dues have been miscalculated, arguing in front of the Supreme Court that they only owe around half of the roughly $7 billion total. So far, these arguments have been routinely dismissed by the Court.
Vi has also asked to be given an additional year to pay the $1.1 billion owed for spectrum, saying that their AGR payments have greatly hindered its ability to pay.
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