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Bharti Airtel to test bond buyer views on debt-cut push

Bloomberg Hong Kong | Updated on October 04, 2019 Published on October 04, 2019

File Photo   -  Reuters

S&P Global Ratings expects Bharti Airtel’s leverage to remain elevated over the next six to nine months

International bond investors may get a chance in coming days to weigh in on Bharti Airtel’s efforts to pare debt, with market signs indicating enthusiasm for the push.

The wireless carrier is planning to sell a dollar perpetual bond ― debt with no set maturity ― as early as October 8, according to sources. Its existing dollar notes, that are due in 2025, have rallied to a three-year high of 104 cents. This come a month after the company said that it plans to retire a substantial part of its debt by utilising proceeds from the initial public offering (IPO) of its Africa unit.

“Still, investors will be weighing risks in what would be the first corporate dollar perpetual out of India since 2013. India’s three big wireless carriers have been locked in a brutal price war, leading to mounting debts and declines in subscribers for Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea. Reliance Jio Infocomm has been offering lower data tariffs and is in position to take advantage of intensifying competition,” India Ratings and Research has said.

“Fallen angel risk has been reduced due to asset sales and equity raising. But the main risk is bond investors not being adequately compensated for the risks of buying into a perpetual,” said Owen Gallimore, head of credit strategy at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd.

S&P Global Ratings expects Bharti Airtel’s leverage to remain elevated over the next six to nine months, and its negative outlook reflects a one-in-three possibility that it may downgrade the company over that period. It rates the firm at the lowest investment-grade ranking of BBB-. The company was cut to junk by Moody’s Investors Service earlier this year.

Bharti Airtel, controlled by tycoon Sunil Mittal, has allayed some concerns by boosting its cash levels with the completion of a rights offering in India and with the initial public offering of its African unit.

Published on October 04, 2019
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