Broad band of growth: Bharti Q3 net zooms 115% to Rs 610 cr

Written by fe Bureau | New Delhi | Updated: Jan 30 2014, 10:20am hrs
The countrys largest telecom operator, Bharti Airtel, on Wednesday posted robust numbers for the October-December quarter, largely in line with Streets expectations. The big news was that this was the company's first rise in quarterly profit in the last four years as it continues to improve its realised rates, betters average revenue per user, checks churn and increases data revenue.

Net profit during the period increased 19.2% on a sequential basis to R610 crore. Total revenues saw a rise of 2.9% from the preceding quarter to R21,939 crore. On a year-on-year basis, Bharti's rise in net profit was 115%. Revenues rose 13.3%.

The third quarter, which is seasonally strong for mobile operators, saw the company register improvement in almost all its key metrics barring minutes of usage, which saw a dip of 1.1% sequentially mainly due to withdrawal of free minutes. However, Arpu was up 1% at R195 compared to R192 in the preceding quarter. voice realisation per minute was also up 1% sequentially at 37.13 paise. Though Bharti has been withdrawing freebies, discounts and free talk time on its pre-paid vouchers to increase the realisation rate, churn was down at 2.7% during the quarter compared to 3.2% in the preceding quarter.

In another positive, data revenue continued its upward swing. During the quarter, it accounted for 10.3% of the total mobile revenues, up from 9.2% in the previous quarter. The total data customer base increased 8% sequentially and those of 3G by 18%. Data Arpu was up 7% sequentially at R75.

Gopal Vittal, JMD and CEO, India Operations, who has been elevated as the managing director of India and South Asia operations from April 1, said: Our efforts over the last 12 months to improve the quality of customer acquisitions have resulted in significant reduction in customer churn. Our focus on superior internet experience has resulted in increased data adoption and usage. Data is now a huge source of revenue growth.

According to a Bharti Airtel official, if the company is able to improve its realisable tariff by around 1 paise each month over the next 7-8 months, it should be totally out of the woods. However, whether this is possible would largely depend upon the competitive elasticity of the sector.

Bharti India cellular revenues indicated steady operational momentum led by RPM and data improvement. However, as with Idea, MOU growth was slow implying changing industry dynamics of slowing MOU due to free minutes being curtailed, said a Goldman Sachs report.

Bharti's finance costs decreased 13% from a year earlier, and it ended the quarter with a net debt of R57,643 crore. The company raised about 750 million euros through a bond sale to partially pay back loans during the December-ended quarter. The company's Ebitda was up 3.8% sequentially at R7,094 crore and 22.8% y-o-y. Ebitda margin also improved during the quarter to 32.3% as compared to 29.8% in the corresponding quarter last year.

Going forward, though larger regulatory risks, such as the payment of one-time fee for excess spectrum and penalty for intra-circle 3G roaming pacts still exist, some near-term benefits have accrued, key among which is the rationalisation of the payment of spectrum usage charge. Under it, Bharti's peak rate would come down from 6% of its adjusted gross revenue to 5.6%.

Though Bharti's Africa business continued to post losses, the quarter saw improvement in the operating metrics. Net loss at the African operations during the period stood at $154 million, higher than the $105 million in the preceding quarter. Total revenues during the period were $1,165 million against $1,119 million in the preceding quarter. Operating metrics like Arpu on a sequential basis increased by 1% to $5.8. The MOU decreased 1% to 141 minutes while the average realised rate per minute improved to $3.31 against $3.30 in the preceding quarter.