Bharti offers $10.70 billion to buy Zain's African unit

Bharti Airtel has offered $10.70 billion to buy Kuwait-based Zain Telecom’s mobile operations in Africa

India's largest telecom operator Bharti Airtel Ltd on Monday said that it has offered $10.70 billion (nearly Rs50,000 crore) to buy Kuwait-based Zain Telecom's mobile operations in Africa, in a deal that would catapult India's largest private telecom firm in the league of the world's top ten operators, reports PTI.

"Bharti and Zain have agreed to enter into exclusive discussions until 25 March 2010 for the acquisition of Zain's African unit based on an enterprise value of $10.7 billion," the company said in a statement.

Zain has operations in 17 African countries and Bharti's offer covers all of them except Sudan and Morocco.

Bharti Airtel, which claims a subscriber base of over 125 million in India, would make it to the top 10 operators globally after acquisition of Zain, which has nearly 42 million users in Africa.

"This potential transaction does not include Zain's operations in Morocco and Sudan and remains subject to due diligence, customary regulatory approvals and signing of final transaction documentation," Bharti said.

This is Bharti's third attempt in the last two years to enter the African market. In September last year, Bharti's $23-billion merger talks with MTN fell through for the second time due to various reasons including regulatory approvals.

Other than India, Bharti has operations in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Bharti had recently recast its top management and had created a separate unit headed by chief executive officer Manoj Kohli to look into overseas opportunities.

With tariffs touching rock bottom and entry of eight new mobile players, Bharti has been facing tough competition in the domestic market and was looking for opportunities in the overseas market to spread its footprint.

"There can be no assurance that a transaction will be consummated. Further announcements will be made in due course," Bharti said in a statement.

Yesterday, the board of directors of Zain Group, formerly known as MTC, unanimously approved the sale of the group's assets in Africa to Bharti.

A consortium of Asian investors has for months been trying to buy Zain's stakes estimated to be worth $13.70 billion from Kuwaiti family conglomerate Kharafi Group, which is one of the main shareholders in Zain. In October last year, Zain halted talks to sell its African assets.

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    Inflation rises to 8.56% in January on rising food prices

    India's WPI rose to 8.56% as food items such as sugar, potatoes and pulses turned costlier. In January, sugar prices rose by 59% compared with last year

    Wholesale price-based inflation rose to 8.56% in January, shooting past the Reserve Bank of India (RBI)'s forecast of 8.5% for this fiscal end, as food items such as sugar, potatoes and pulses turned costlier. Overall inflation in December was 7.31%.

    In January, sugar prices rose by 59% year-on-year (y-o-y) while potatoes turned costlier by 53.4% and pulses by 45.6%. On a monthly basis, prices of masur increased by 9%, arhar by 6% and wheat by 4%.

    The fuel index rose by 1.8% due to higher prices of naphtha that rose 21%. Furnace oil rose 6% while bitumen, non-coking coal and light diesel oil rose 3% each.

    To tame inflation, the RBI, in its quarterly monetary review, had asked banks to keep aside more cash with them. It hiked the cash reserve ratio—the amount banks have to park with the apex bank—by 75 basis points to 5.75%, which would mop up Rs36,000 crore from the system.

    The RBI has also raised the inflation projection to 8.5% by this fiscal-end from 6.5%.

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    Corporations still cautious about recovery in 2010, says E&Y

    More than 50% of executives from major corporations in West Asia and Africa agree that surviving 2010 would remain a challenge

    The corporate world is still nervous about economic recovery, a survey of senior executives at nearly 900 major companies worldwide has revealed, reports PTI.

    More than 50% of executives from major corporations in West Asia and Africa took part in the study conducted by global consultancy firm Ernst & Young (E&Y).

    The research revealed that over half (53%) of the companies agreed that surviving 2010 would still remain a challenge compared to nearly three-quarters who had said that they were focused on securing the survival of their present business last year.

    However, the percentage looking to pursue new ventures this year has also risen to 34% from 19% in January 2009.

    Companies focused on improving the performance of their current assets were down to 27% from 39%, and the proportion still restructuring their business also dropped to 27% from 37% over the year.

    Tariq Sadiq, West Asia markets leader, E&Y West Asia said, "The region has, in varying degrees, bucked the more extreme after-effects of the downturn."

    Organisations may be less worried about survival over the next 12 months, but the return to a healthy operating environment is still some way off.

    The overwhelming view is that most companies are still focused on securing the present, which means that they are still in the early stages of responding to the current environment.

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