Sabtu, 31 Mei 2008

NEW DELHI (AFP) - Merger talks between Indias biggest mobile phone services firm, Bharti Airtel, and South Africas flagship MTN Group could wind up this weekend, a report said on Saturday.

Bharti and MTN, Africas biggest cellular operator, were putting finishing touches to a funding structure for the proposed merger, Indias Mint newspaper reported, quoting unnamed people who it said were close to the discussions.

A Bharti official declined to comment on the report.

A merged group would create the worlds sixth largest mobile company with a network of 130 million subscribers -- 68 million from MTN and 62 million from Bharti -- that would dominate two of the worlds fastest growing cellular markets -- India and Africa.

Johannesburg-based MTN may have to be valued at up to 50 billion dollars, or 25 dollars a share, including debt -- about 25 percent more than its current stock exchange value for a deal to be struck, analysts say.

MTN, whose shares have soared since the merger talks were confirmed by the two companies on May 5, has net debt of around 2.9 billion dollars.

Bhartis shares have dropped seven percent since the discussions were announced amid concern the transaction could strain its balance sheet.

Indian newspapers have been reporting for days that Bhartis negotiations with MTN were at a crucial phase.

Bharti might offer the chairmans post of the proposed merged colossus to MTN group chairman M.C. Ramaphosa to sweeten its overtures, Indias Business Standard newspaper said on Friday.

Bhartis billionaire chairman Sunil Mittal would be deputy chairman and group chief executive officer while MTN chief executive officer Phutomo Nhleko would be deputy group CEO, the paper reported.

Bharti has said "discussions being held are aimed at combining the strengths of two players from emerging markets" and that it was looking at "possible structures to achieve this objective."

Bharti wants to acquire a 51 percent stake. But MTN, which serves 21 markets across Africa and the Middle East, is pushing Bharti to buy out 100 percent of the company in a transaction that could be portrayed in South Africa as a merger of equals, reports said.

If it goes ahead, the deal would easily eclipse Tata Steels 13.7-billion-dollar takeover of Anglo-Dutch steelmaker Corus last year, Indias biggest foreign acquisition so far.

However, a deal could hit Indian regulatory hurdles as foreign ownership in the new merged group might exceed the allowed 74 percent, reports said.

MTN wants half the merger to be carried out through a share swap, the Times of India reported.

But any new share issue by Bharti to complete the transaction could hike the foreign stake in the Indian company to as much as 78 percent.

Foreign investors, including Singapores SingTelNet, already hold 65 percent of Bharti.


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