Birlas To Exit Telecom Business At Right Price

Mumbai, May 30 | Updated: May 31 2004, 05:30am hrs
The AV Birla Group does not see itself as a long-term player in telecom and is willing to exit the business for a right price. The Groups 33 per cent stake in Idea Cellular is clearly a financial investment for the group.

I dont think we are looking at putting in further funds into telecom. Thats where we are at the moment. We dont see ourselves as a long-term strategic investor, said a top group official.

This puts to rest all speculation as to whether telecom will continue to be a part of the group portfolio. While the fact that the Birlas were looking at exiting Idea had been in the air earlier, the signals subsequently emanating from the group had indicated a rethink on the issue.

However, the Birlas are not looking at a distress sale. If we get a good value for our investment, we would be happy to look at an exit, added the official.

AT&T Wireless, the foreign stakeholder in Idea is currently looking at exiting India. Industry sources said that the Idea IPO which is in the pipeline would not materialise before the AT&T stake sale takes place.

There have been six players who have evinced interest in AT&Ts stake which is valued at about $200 million (approximately Rs 900 crore). Sources familiar with the matter said a decision would be announced by the end of this week. Among the prominent bidders are Telekom Malaysia, Singapore Technologies Telemedia (STT) and Temasek.

However, sources added that despite being a major player in telecom, the Tata Group, which is the other major stakeholder in Idea Cellular was not interested in expanding its equity in the company.

However, Birla Group sources said that Idea would continue to grow and expand through the organic route as well as acquisitions.

One is looking at value creation and possibly exiting. It would happen sometime in the future, the official said adding that operational and sponsor issues are not really connected.