Another weak quarter for incumbent telcos

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Updated: October 4, 2018 2:51:25 AM

Revenues to be hit by continued downtrading of average revenue per user, Jio’s ‘monsoon hungama’ scheme.

telecom operators, Bharti Airtel, Vodafone, Idea, Jio, Jio monsoon hungama, Reliance JioImpact on the incumbents will likely increase from Q3 onwards as the impact in Q2 was limited to less than half a quarter. (Reuters)

Incumbent telecom operators like Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea are expected to report another weak quarter earnings during the July-September period as apart from the seasonality factor, they will be hit by the impact of Reliance Jio’s JioPhone ‘monsoon hungama’ scheme. Analysts also see their revenues to be under further pressure on account on of the continued downtrading of average revenue per user in the prepaid segment and repricing in the postpaid segment to hold on to their subscribers.

Analysts at Kotak Institutional equities noted in their report that the initial impact of the JioPhone ‘monsoon hungama’ exchange offer suggests that Jio has seen a higher degree of success with this plan than it did with the initial JioPhone plan. “More important, given that this plan involves the exchange of the customer’s old feature phone for JioPhone, it also means that the spend on the incumbent SIM goes straight down to zero.

Impact on the incumbents will likely increase from Q3 onwards as the impact in Q2 was limited to less than half a quarter,” Kotak has said. Bharti Airtel is estimated to post a consolidated net loss of over Rs 1,216 crore for the three months of July-September 2018 against a profit of Rs 97.3 crore in the preceding quarter, while the revenues are expected to remain flat at nearly Rs 20,145 crore, according to Kotak’s estimates. The Ebitda (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation) is also estimated to come under pressure and is expected to fall by 4.5% quarter-on-quarter to Rs 6,421 crore, while the margins could shrink by 160 basis points to 31.9%. It is estimated to post Arpu of Rs 98 vs Rs 105 in Q1FY19.

The combined Vodafone Idea is expected to post a wider net loss of Rs 3,047 crore during the quarter, up from over Rs 1,784 crore in the quarter ended June 30, 2018, even though the company is estimated to post an increase of 28% q-o-q in the revenues to about Rs 7,547 crore. While the Ebitda is expected to increase by 5.5% sequentially to over Rs 695 crore, the Ebitda margins are likely to fall by 200 basis points to 9.2%. However, Idea (ex-Vodafone) on a like-on-like basis, is estimated to report a 34% q-o-q Ebitda decline.

“We note that this is after baking in some initial merger cost synergy gains,” analysts at KIE observed. Vodafone Idea’s Arpu is expected to be in the range of Rs 96-97 vs Rs 100 in the preceding quarter. Meanwhile, the BSE Telecom index closed down 2.8% on Wednesday led by Bharti stocks. Bharti Infratel’s share price closed down 5.94% at Rs 251.70 on BSE, while Bharti Airtel’s share price closed down 2.5% at Rs 318.45.

The weakness in the earnings of telecom companies has been persistent ever since Reliance Jio started operations in September 2016. Idea Cellular, for instance, had been posting a net loss for the last six straight quarters, barring the April-June 2018 period, where it reported a surprise net profit of Rs 256.5 crore due to a one-time gain on sale of Idea Cellular Infra Services at Rs 3,364 crore.

Bharti, too, has seen its profits shrink to Rs 97.3 crore in the April-June 2018 period from over Rs 367 crore in the corresponding quarter last year. With continued customer preference for lower value deep discounted unlimited voice and bundled data plans, Arpu, too, have seen a consistent decline. The revenues during the quarter will remain impacted by accelerated postpaid repricing, with the incumbents trying to protect their postpaid subscriber base from switching to Jio, analysts said.

For instance, Airtel last month revealed a new offer for its postpaid customers offering a total discount of Rs 50 on its Rs 399 myPlan Infinity postpaid plan. The customers are provided the said discount in form of Rs 50 vouchers over the next six months. With this, the effective price of the Rs 399 plan came down to Rs 349. The plan offered users 20GB data per month with rollover policy for both 3G and 4G data.

The company is offering an additional 20 GB data for the next 12 months taking the monthly data benefits to 40GB. Meanwhile, Vodafone’s RED range of postpaid plans offer data rollover of up to 200 GB with plans starting at Rs 399. Jio’s postpaid plan has a monthly rental of Rs 199 offering 25GB data on high speed and thereafter chargeable at Rs 20 per GB.

Last month, to mark its second anniversary, Jio brought in another disruptive tariff scheme which would have hurt incumbents Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea. Jio effectively reduced by Rs 100 the price of its most popular prepaid pack of Rs 399. Consumers who will recharge through PhonePe using MyJio app will get a cashback of Rs 100, so effectively the cost comes down to Rs 299. The other benefits of the pack — 1.5GB data per day through the validity period of 84 days — stayed intact.

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