Slower growth to impact mobile operators' revenues, say analysts

The third quarter of FY10 is likely to be one of the weakest quarters for the bottom-line of Indian mobile operators, despite new highs in net monthly subscriber additions

Worsening metrics in the Indian wireless (mobile) industry are likely to converge into significant pressure on earnings of incumbents, say analysts.

"For the third quarter of FY10, we expect the aggressive price cuts to lead to 9%-14% quarter-on-quarter (q-o-q) drop in wireless ARPU (average revenues per user) and a 2%-4% q-o-q decline in wireless revenues for our coverage stocks. Idea Cellular is the most vulnerable to competition and we expect losses in its new circles to widen to Rs1.10 billion in the quarter," said IDFC-SSKI Securities Ltd, in a research report.

Entry of new operators in the market has led to higher subscriber additions every month. Tata DoCoMo has been the market leader for incremental additions for the last four months. Despite being the 7th-8th largest operator in its eight circles, Uninor has added an impressive 1.2 million subscribers in the first month, garnering an estimated 12% share of the incremental market in these circles.

IDFC-SSKI said that in the near term, it expects the pace of subscriber additions to remain strong and pricing to be a key factor in the fight for market share.

The net telecommunications (telecom) subscriber additions in December 2009 stood at 12.52 million, excluding the numbers of Reliance Communications (RCom) and Tata Teleservices (Tata Tele), implying a 12.9% growth month-on-month (m-o-m) in the net additions. At the end of December 2009, India's total mobile subscriber base, excluding RCom and Tata Teleservices increased to 364.7 million, an m-o-m growth of 3.6%.

"Despite a 7.5%-12.6% q-o-q growth in wireless subscribers, we expect the third quarter of FY10 revenues of mobile operators to be stagnant sequentially," said Anand Rathi Financial Services Ltd, in a report.

The report said that unlike the second quarter, the brokerage expects the third quarter ARPU to drop more from average revenues per minute (ARPM) or tariff cuts, and less from minutes of usage (MOU) drop, due to seasonal recovery. As such, the third quarter margin contraction would be more than in the second quarter, leading to a 0.7%-6.6% q-o-q drop in estimated wireless earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortisation (EBITDA) of the leading operators like Bharti Airtel, RCom and Idea, the research report added.

On the back of aggressive price cuts and intense competition, wireless metrics of all the listed operators are likely to deteriorate significantly. "We estimate 7%-9% q-o-q drop in yields for Idea and Bharti, up from about 4% q-o-q in the second quarter of FY10. Notably, RCom had reported a 17.5% q-o-q drop in yields in the second quarter of FY10, mainly due to elimination of handset revenues in the wireless segment. We estimate about 5% decline in revenue per minute for RCom in the third quarter of FY10. ARPU for our coverage universe is likely to decline by 9%-14% q-o-q, leading to a 2%-4% decline in wireless revenues. A sharp decline in tariffs and new market launches, we believe, would lead to margin erosion of 70-420 basis points," said IDFC-SSKI.

Current valuations appear inexpensive compared to the cost of a nationwide rollout for mobile operators, but the worsening wireless metrics and persistent ambiguity around regulatory developments would remain key overhangs on stock prices.

The IDFC-SSKI report said that Idea remains the most sensitive to pressure on wireless business as the operator is still in an expansionary mode. "We have lowered our 12-month price target for Bharti, RCom and Idea by 4%-11% to Rs330, Rs188 and Rs54, respectively and believe these companies would continue to underperform the broader indices,” the brokerage added.

The telecom sector is witnessing one of its worst times over the recent past, primarily due to heightened competitive activity in the market place. There are 12 players in the market at present and a couple more are likely to roll out services shortly. Rapidly falling tariffs are impacting the profitability of all players in the market.

Echoing the same view, ING Investment Management (India) Pvt Ltd, in a report said, "We believe (the) telecom sector will continue to get negatively impacted by the hyper-competition in the market. (The) number of players in the market needs to come down for improved profitability of the industry. While consolidation in the long term is inevitable, in the next two years, we may not see any activity on that front. We are underweight on the sector.” 

New launches by Uninor and Etisalat, introduction of mobile number portability (MNP), final policy on 2G licence fee and allocation, and auction of 3G spectrum would be the key events closely watched over the next few months. While MNP implementation and new launches could lead to some further market disruption and lead to an increase in competitive activity, successful 3G auctions and final policy on 2G spectrum allocations would increase visibility in these key regulatory issues.

Motilal Oswal Securities Ltd (MOSL) said in a research note that it foresees a low risk of significant revenue decline at the industry level, given high mix of low-end subscribers in the pre-paid segment who are likely to step up usage. However, realignment of revenue market share could continue to be driven by aggressive tariffs and promotions by new entrants, it added.

In the current challenging environment, MOSL said it believes that Bharti remains the best placed bet based on its strong balance sheet, least earning sensitivity to ARPM declines and strong brand, network, and distribution coverage, enabling it to maintain a premium versus other competitors.

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    RCom may sell 5% in its tower unit as a pre-IPO deal

    RCom is learnt to have begun talks with strategic and financial investors for selling 5% stake in its tower unit prior to the planned IPO, for about Rs2,500 crore

    Reliance Communications Ltd (RCom) is learnt to have begun talks with strategic and financial investors for selling 5% stake in its tower unit prior to the planned initial public offering (IPO), reports PTI.

    Banking sources with direct knowledge of the development said that the company was hoping to raise about Rs2,500 crore from the proposed sale.

    JM Financial is the lead manager of the talks with a host of co-lead managers like JP Morgan, Enam Financials, Deutsche Bank, ICICI Securities and HSBC.

    A company spokesperson declined to comment on the issue, citing Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) guidelines. SEBI rules bar a company from disclosing information about itself after getting approval for an IPO.

    In 2007, the company had sold 5% in Infratel for Rs1,400 crore to seven financial investors that included George Soros, HSBC, Fortress Capital, New Silk, Galleon, DA Capital and GLG Capital— in a deal valuing the company at Rs28,000 crore.

    If the pre-IPO placement talks materialise into stake sale and the planned 10% IPO takes place, then RCom's stake will reduce to 80%.

    Earlier, Reliance Infratel had filed with SEBI for the IPO, which sources had said could raise up to Rs5,000 crore for a 10% stake, which valued the company at Rs50,000 crore.

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    Boeing to begin work on new MRO unit by mid-2010

    Maharashtra Airport Development Co has allotted 50 acres of land for the MRO facility and Boeing plans to start construction of the unit in the second quarter of 2010

    After being delayed for two years, Boeing will start construction of a $100-million aircraft repair and overhaul facility at Nagpur by the second quarter of this calendar year in collaboration with Air India, its top official said on Monday.

    "We deliberately delayed the maintenance, repair & overhaul (MRO) project as we wanted to time it to match with the delivery of the Boeing 787 Dreamliners to Air India. It (the facility) will come up by late 2013 or early 2014," Boeing India chief Dinesh Keskar told reporters.

    About 50 acres of land has already been allocated for the project by the Maharashtra Airport Development Co and construction will start in the second quarter of this year.

    Mr Keskar said that the MRO facility was intended to serve 23 Boeing 777s, 27 Dreamliner 787s and other aircraft types like the 737s ordered by Air India.

    Noting that B-787s would not require major checks immediately after their deliveries to Air India start next year, Mr Keskar said that when these aircraft would need to go in for high-level 'C' checks, "the facility would be fully in place".

    The Boeing India chief projected that India would require $100 billion worth of planes in the next 20 years, with single-aisle aircraft forming the bulk of the demand worth $60 billion. As the 10th largest military spender in the world, India would require $31 billion worth of defence deliveries in the next 10 years, he said.

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    Shadi Katyal

    1 decade ago

    I am a bit confused as it is not clear whether this fcility is for only Air India and Indian airlines or is this similar to how Hindustan Aircraft started. That was a facility by Boeing to overhaul/repair air crafts during and after 2nd WW.
    Did Air India not signed similar pact with Dubai.
    Air India used to repair and overhaul engines for other international companies but it lost due to unions and being a PSU has no working culture left.

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