Reliance Industries Ltd, India’s largest private-sector company, is open to offloading up to 30 per cent stake in its telecom venture, Reliance Jio, to a global strategic partner -- a move to unlock value.
But the stake sale will be done only after the telecom company has acquired a sizeable customer base.
RIL has already spent close to Rs 33,000 crore (Rs 330 billion) in its telecom venture, expected to be launched early next year.
Bankers said any share sale would be good news for RIL’s shareholders, as it would help the company de-risk its telecom business.
But the investments are turning out to be a big concern for RIL’s investors, who are worried about the profitability of the telecom venture, given the competition from well-entrenched rivals like Bharti, Vodafone and Idea.
Global bank UBS has recently valued Jio at Rs 140 a share, adjusting for net debt of the company, and said any stake sale would drive up valuations of Reliance, which was trading at Rs 1,005 a share on BSE on Wednesday.
RIL did not reply to an email seeking comments on its stake sale plans but company insiders said they would wait for Jio to start operations and have a sizeable user base so that it can get a better valuation.
“As of now, stake sale might not fetch good valuation.
"But once the company is up and running and consumers get first-hand experience of world-class services, the valuations will get better,” they said.
This is not the first time that RIL will be selling stake in a new venture. Earlier, it had sold a 30 per cent stake in 23 KG-D6 gas blocks to BP Plc in 2011 for .2 billion and another 10 per cent to Canada’s Niko Resources.
It had also sold a five per cent stake to US oil major Chevron in 2006, when it set up its Jamnagar refinery.
Chevron sold the stake back to RIL in 2009.
Bankers said RIL might also look at the option of acquiring a local telecom company in the next one or two years, as a second-stage investment.
At present, Tata Teleservices, Aircel and Videocon are looking for partners for their telecom ventures and Reliance could be a natural partner. Besides, South Africa-based MTN is an international player looking at an India entry.
It is reported to be doing due diligence on a Mumbai company.
According to analysts, since Reliance Jio does not have any spectrum in the 800- or 900-MHz bands, considered highly efficient for providing voice services, it might even go for acquisition of a local player and merge it with its own operations.
“Going forward, they could participate in auctions of these bands and acquire voice capability.
"However, this would cause a significant cash outflow, as these bands are relatively expensive and their auctions see aggressive bidding.
"The current lack of spectrum in the 800/900-MHz bands is potentially restrictive for Reliance Jio in terms of total geographical coverage,” said an analyst with Barclays.
Also, Jio could use spectrum in the 1,800-MHz band to deploy its FDD-LTE technology.
The company currently has 1800-MHz licences in 14 of the country’s 22 circles. But this will prevent the company from utilising 1,800-MHz spectrum on a pan-Indian basis, unlike the 2,300-MHz band.
As inorganic growth might be able to bridge this gap, the company might also look out for players like Videocon, which have spectrum in the 1,800-MHz band in the eight circles where it currently does not have licences to operate, analysts say.
BUILDING STEP BY STEP
- Jun 2010: RIL re-enters the telecom sector by buying Infotel Brodband for Rs 4,800 crore (Rs 48 billion)
- Apr 2013: Jio ties up with RCom for nationwide sharing of inter-city fibre-optic network infra
- Jun 2013: Jio ties up with RCom to lease its 45,000 ground and rooftop-based towers
- Dec 2013: Jio ties up with Bharti Airtel to share fibre-optic, submarine cable networks, towers and internet broadband services
- Mar 2014: Jio signs a pact with Viom Networks for sharing of tower infrastructure (using Viom’s 42,000 telecom towers)
- Apr 2014: Reliance buys Network18 group for Rs 4,000 crore (Rs 40 billion) to acquire content for its 4G services
- Jun 2014: Chairman Mukesh Ambani announces a Rs 70,000-crore (Rs 700 billion) investment and says Jio will be launched by early 2015
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