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Bharti Airtel has divested 83 million shares, comprising 4.49 per cent stake, in tower subsidiary Bharti Infratel to raise Rs 3,325 crore. This is to primarily be used to pare debt as the country’s largest telecom operator by market share tries to strengthen itself to fight competition from Reliance Jio and the Idea-Vodafone combine. This is the third such sale of shares by Airtel in its tower unit this year. It wants the money to deleverage its balance sheet and invest in infrastructure to upgrade its fourth-generation technology (4G) capability. Consolidated debt as on end-September was Rs 91,480 crore. After the latest transaction, Bharti Airtel and its wholly owned subsidiaries together have equity of 53.51 per cent (it was earlier 58 per cent) in Bharti Infratel, the company stated. The sale was done by Airtel via a wholly-owned subsidiary, Nettle Infrastructure Investments. Bharti Airtel recently had made clear it was open to sale of its controlling stake in Bharti Infratel. It had been approached by some reputed global investors, it recently disclosed; no decision had been taken in this regard.
Last year, the board of directors year had constituted a sub-committee to evaluate a stake sale in Bharti Infratel.Following which, shares were sold to a group of private equity investors and via Qualified Institutional Placement. The board has authorised the company to continue evaluating and, if found feasible, to sell shares in Bharti Infratel in one or more tranches from Airtel or subsidiary Nettle. Infratel’s shares have surged this year, allowing Airtel to profit on equity sale as it looks to create a war chest for investment. It has raised its earlier investment forecast for the current financial year to Rs 25,000 crore, from the earlier stated Rs 20,000 crore. A majority of the investments are going into building of infrastructure for 4G capabilities. Industry watchers says the Vodafone-Idea Cellular merger is likely to be complete by the first half of next year. This, with Reliance Jio, will give immense competition to Airtel.