Bharti in talks for Zain assets

Bharti in talks for Zain assets. (AFP)

Bharti Airtel has confirmed that is in talks to buy for $10.7 billion (Dh39.2bn) in cash most of Kuwaiti telecom group Zain's African cellular assets.

This is the Indian firm's third attempt at gaining a foothold in a continent that offers a last opportunity for major subscriber growth.

Bharti, controlled by billionaire Chairman Sunil Mittal, and Zain said the exclusivity period runs until March 25 and any deal is subject to due diligence and regulatory approvals.

Mohamed Al Kharafi, Chairman of Kuwait's Kharafi group, which owns 11.47 per cent of Zain through one of its units, told Indian television he was confident a deal would go through and that an all-cash transaction was planned.

The move by Bharti, which is 30 per cent-owned by Singapore Telecommunications, follows two failed attempts to agree a $24bn deal with South Africa's MTN Group.

Bharti has been hunting for emerging market assets as its home turf becomes fiercely competitive.

New entrants into the world's fastest-growing mobile market have triggered a vicious price war which has seen some call charges slashed to a fraction of a US cent. Bharti posted its slowest profit growth in more than three years for the December quarter.

"The competitive pressure in the Indian telecoms sector is so high that players such as Bharti will have to redefine themselves and look for overseas expansion," said Rishi Sahai, Director at M&A advisory firm Cogence Advisors. "Chances of a deal happening this time are very high unless some regulatory issues come up."

However, Bharti's share price slumped more than nine per cent at the close of the Mumbai market, wiping around $2.4bn off the firm's market value.

 

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