MTN courting India acquisition: report

MTN Group is believed to be sniffing out a potential acquisition in India with Reliance Communications, the company it tried unsuccessfully to merge with in 2008, according to Bloomberg.

Reliance Communications, which is owned by billionaire Anil Ambani, boasts a customer base of over 130 million, including 7.2 million 3G customers and 29.4 million data customers.

MTN is the third biggest company in South Africa according to Forbes’ list of 2000 biggest companies in the world, ranking 345th, overall.

Bloomberg said that MTN is evaluating assets in India with Reliance a possible target, citing four people familiar with the matter. However, the media group noted that Ambani is unlikely to walk away from Reliance, “which makes an outright takeover less probable,” one source said.

And while MTN – as is customary for the group – said it could not comment on speculation, Bloomberg noted that a successful deal would give the group its first major foothold in Asia, having also tried, unsuccessfully, to merge with Bharti Airtel in a deal worth $24 billion, in 2009.

MTN could “quite comfortably” fund an acquisition with debt and its own cash, Bruce Main, a fund manager at Ivy Asset Management told Bloomberg. An obstacle would be “the competitive environment in India, which is so aggressive that the main mobile operators started slashing margins substantially.”

Shares in MTN declined a fraction (0.13%) in trade on the JSE on Tuesday, a day which saw South Africa’s All Share Index add 1.3% to 41,971 points.

However, at R181.75, MTN is valued at R342.04 billion and is the continent’s largest mobile operator with close on 200 million subscribers, and positioned in 22 countries in Africa and the Middle East.

In April, MTN said it could spend up to $8 billion on an acquisition and is looking for targets on the continent, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

The group is one of 12 operators bidding for one of two telecommunication licenses in Myanmar, and is also believed to be vying for a 53% stake in Maroc Telecom, currently held by France-based Vivendi S.A.

On Tuesday (28 May), the group announced that former chief executive Phuthuma Nhleko had rejoined the group as its chairman, following the official resignation of Cyril Ramaphosa in March.

Nhleko stepped down as CEO of MTN Group at the end of March 2011, having been appointed in 2002, with Sifiso Dabengwa taking over his role.

In an annual general meeting on Tuesday, Dabengwa told board members that the group continues to focus on broadening its offering, providing more services to customers by moving into the digital space, leveraging MTN´s inherent strength in adjacent industries, creating a distinct customer experience and transforming its operating model.

“We expect to deliver improved organic growth in both revenue and ebitda in 2013 and anticipate reaching the milestone of 200 million subscribers by the middle of the year.”

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MTN courting India acquisition: report