/ 13 February 2010

Bharti offers $10,7bn for Zain’s Africa operations

Bharti Airtel has offered up to $10,7-billion for the African assets of Kuwaiti telecom group Zain, Kuwaiti newspapers reported on Saturday, as India’s largest mobile operator makes a renewed foreign push.

Zain’s board is expected to meet soon to discuss Bharti’s offer, local daily al-Rai said in an unsourced report.

Officials at both firms were not immediately available for comment.

Bharti has resumed its hunt for emerging market acquisitions after its planned $24-billion merger with MTN failed in September, the second time the a proposed deal between the two had collapsed in just over a year.

In October, Akhil Gupta, deputy group CEO at the cellphone operator’s parent, said Bharti would look at buying a stake in Zain if there was an opportunity.

Ownership of Zain and its assets in Africa have been the subject of much speculation and uncertainty since August last year when news of a potential sale emerged.

Zain, the third-largest telecoms operator in the Arab world, in October halted talks to sell the African assets to appease potential buyers of a 46% stake in the parent company, Zain Group.

A consortium of Asian investors has been seeking to the stake from Kuwaiti family conglomerate Kharafi Group for two dinars per share, or about $13,7-billion.

Zain shares surge
Shares in Zain have surged as much as 23% since February 4 and rose 3,9% on Thursday, ahead of the Middle East weekend.

On Monday, Zain said in a statement on the Kuwaiti bourse website that it has not received any offers for the sale of its Zain Africa assets.

Three days later, Zain appointed Nabil bin Salama as the firm’s new chief executive, replacing Saad al-Barrak.

Al-Barrak, who was seen as the driving force behind the company’s growth into 23 countries across Africa and the Middle East, resigned from Zain earlier this month amid uncertainty about the fate of the sale of the parent company stake.

Shares in Bharti closed on Friday at 314,4 rupees, valuing it at about $25,8-billion.

In another unsourced report, Kuwaiti al-Watan newspaper said that the firm’s board is due to meet on Sunday to discuss the Bharti offer.

Last month, Bharti agreed to buy 70% of Bangladesh’s Warid Telecom for an initial investment of $300-million. It also set up a new unit to drive its foreign expansion, focused on opportunities in emerging markets where it can replicate its low-price, high-volume model.

Bharti’s home mobile market is facing margin pressures from intense competition and price wars, which are leading to lower tariffs and shrinking profits. – Reuters