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Bharti Airtel falters in war with RJio

Bloomberg Mumbai | Updated on May 07, 2019 Published on May 07, 2019

Indian carrier Bharti Airtel registered profit bolstered by one-time gains   -  Reuters

Earnings signal trouble for company with $17 billion in debt

In a war for the control of India’s billion-plus mobile-services market, tycoon Sunil Mittal seems to be floundering in the face of a juggernaut unleashed by Mukesh Ambani.

For at least a fourth quarter in a row, Mittal’s Bharti Airtel Ltd. shored up its profits with one-time gains, masking headwinds posed by upstart Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd. Jio’s roll-out, after its 2016 debut, has knocked Airtel from its perch in a consolidation that shrank the industry to three players from about a dozen four years ago.

Read also: Bharti Airtel Q4 consolidated net up 37%

Airtel is struggling to add subscribers in a saturated market after Jio managed to lure more than 300 million users over the past three years -- a quarter of the world’s second-largest market. The aggressive expansion of Jio with free calls and cheaper data, backed by the deep pockets of Asia’s richest man, was bad news for highly indebted incumbents engaged in a tariff war that had pushed call rates to less than a cent.

Shriveling earnings portend further trouble for Airtel. Already saddled with more than $17 billion of debt -- the highest among Asian peers -- it is also preparing to spend billions more on 5G airwaves at a government auction in coming months. Adding to its woes, Moody’s Investors Service cut its rating to junk earlier this year.

The New Delhi-based company is counting on some asset sales, a rights issue and an initial public offering in London of its Africa unit to bolster its finances.

Airtel said in an exchange filing on Monday that a one-time net gain of ₹ 2,020 crore ($291 million) on account of a credit related to re-assessment of levies boosted its net income to ₹ 110 crore for the quarter through March.

Although revenue rose 6 percent to ₹ 20,600 crore in the period, data provided by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India show Airtel added a net 53,493 subscribers in the first two months of the year, compared with Jio’s 17.1 million. While Airtel didn’t provide user addition data for the quarter, Jio reported an increase of 26.6 million.

Published on May 07, 2019
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