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Here's why Mukesh Ambani's first Jio profit is 'too good to believe'

Morgan Stanley estimates Jio will turn cash-flow positive in the 12 months through March 2020

Bhuma Shrivastava & Saket Sundria | Bloomberg 

Mukesh Ambani, Reliance Jio
Mukesh Ambani, Reliance Jio

Infocomm Ltd.’s first-ever net income is “a bit too good to believe” for Sanford C. analysts, who examined how the phone carrier accounts for some costs.

Jio’s “unique approach” results in a slower pace of recognising depreciation and amortisation, which led to a Rs 12 billion ($187 million) charge in the December quarter, according to a February 2 report. Using a rate similar to local rivals would have quadrupled that number and turned Jio’s reported profit into a loss of Rs 24.1 billion, analysts led by Hong Kong-based Chris Lane estimated.

The carrier, controlled by India’s richest man and a unit of Industries Ltd., posted a net income of Rs 5.04 billion last quarter, about 16 months after its debut sparked an industry price war that crashed revenues. The result was boosted by Jio’s policy, linking depreciation charges to “its own assessment” of usage and economic benefit, while other Indian carriers amortize assets at a fixed rate over time, said in a Jan. 21 report.

An email seeking comment from Jio’s spokesman went unanswered.

“It’s part of accounts engineering. The assets will depreciate over time whether you use them or not, whether you use them partially or fully,” said Anil Singhvi, founder of Ican Investment Advisors Pvt Ltd. This approach is “just a way of saying I’m profitable sooner,” he said by phone, adding that the focus should instead be on cash flows.

Billionaire Mukesh Ambani’s unit launched with free services in 2016 and went paid 10 months ago. estimates will turn cash-flow positive in the 12 months through March 2020.

analysts pinned Jio’s profit down to three factors: lower network costs possibly due to favorable tower-sharing deals, reduced interconnect fees and its method of accounting for depreciation which “stands out as an anomaly” when compared to global peers.

Jio, which had 152 million subscribers at the end of November, has elbowed aside rivals to become the nation’s No. 4 wireless carrier. Bharti Airtel Ltd. is in the top spot with soon-to-be-merged Vodafone India Ltd. and Idea Cellular Ltd. at No. 2 and No. 3 respectively.

First Published: Wed, February 07 2018. 12:16 IST