Vodafone plans $2-bn investment to raise stake in Indian unit

Written by fe Bureau | Updated: Oct 9 2013, 09:12am hrs
Vodafone intends to increase its stake in its Indian subsidiary after New Delhi cleared foreign companies to take full ownership of local carriers, Reuters reported from London and New Delhi. The company is set to seek approval in the coming weeks from the Foreign Investment Promotion Board to buy stakes from minority partners, a source said, adding that it has yet to decide if it will buy out all partners.

Vodafone declined to comment when asked if it will increase its stake in Vodafone India. The cost of buying out minority shareholders could be as much as

$2 billion. Vodafone, which entered India in 2007 by acquiring Hutchison Whampoas local cellular assets in an $11-billion deal, owns a combined 84.5% of Vodafone India, the countrys second-biggest telecom company by users.

In August, India relaxed rules on foreign holdings in the sector to allow companies such as Vodafone to own up to 100% of their Indian businesses. Before the rule change, foreign companies were limited to direct stakes of no more than 74% in Indian carriers.

Up to three foreign direct investment proposals in the telecom sector are "just around the corner" after the rule change, finance minister P. Chidambarm told Reuters on Monday, without naming any company.

Piramal Enterprises owns about 11% of Vodafone India. The remainder is owned by investors including Analjit Singh, Vodafone India's non-executive chairman.

Vodafone has an agreement to buy Piramal's 11% stake for Rs 8,300 crore if an initial public offering of Vodafone India does not happen by February 2014, the British company said in its latest annual report.

Piramal, which bought the stake after Vodafone and its former Indian partner Essar Group parted ways, hadsaid it is a financial investment with assured returns. Piramal could sell the stake in 2014, its chairman Ajay Piramal said in May.

Going by the valuation agreed for the Piramal stake, the total minority stake in Vodafone India would be worth $1.9 billion, according to Reuters calculations.

Vodafone is the biggest corporate investor in India, but it has encountered numerous challenges, from the high cost of radiowave spectrum to a continuing $2 billion-plus tax dispute.

The Financial Times reported on Monday that Vodafone would file an application this month with Indian authorities to seek clearance to buy the minority stakes in Vodafone India.