Barely two months after the break-off with MTN, Bharti is on a shopping spree once again. This time, instead of looking for big buy outs like MTN, Bharti is aiming at a smaller target: a 70% stake in Warid Telecom, the #4 operator in Bangladesh, for US$ 300 million. Warid has around 2.7 million subscribers, which is roughly how many Bharti adds every month in India. So clearly the story here isn’t the impact on Bharti’s bottom line, but rather what the acquisition says about the company’s growth strategy.
After having its fingers burnt twice with MTN, (for details see our recent report “Bharti Airtel- Looking to Start Afresh
”) Bharti has now realized that deals of that scale happen once in a blue moon. If it is not content to stay only in India – and why would it be, since it competes with 10 or 12 price-cutting rival for low margin business? – it makes more sense to concentrate on smaller markets with growth potential. Not bad thinking really from the management.
I don’t think Bharti will benefit substantially in the near term by foraying into nearby markets like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, but if nothing else it will give jitters to the other multinationals competing there, like Telenor (majority owner of Grameenphone), NTT DoCoMo, which just last year bought 30% of Aktel, and Axiata, which owns 85% of Dialog in Sri Lanka. After all, here is a well-funded operator with a lot of experience in low ARPU markets, hoping to push a low-ranking operator further up the chart. Bharti’s timing is good, too, beating out Viettel, which was also interested in Warid.
So is it a shift in Bharti’s foreign (acquisition) policy to give up on megadeals? It’s not right to say that there is a shift in policy but it’s proper to say that Bharti has become much more aggressive and opportunistic in looking at easier deals to do if they make strategic sense.
We also suspect other operators will focus more on incremental expansion. Orange just announced it was done with megadeals, and Bharti competitors like Telenor and Etisalat have always expanded their emerging market footprints slowly and steadily. Might a mature North American operator look at home market saturation and consider a small presence in Africa? Might Telefonica think outside Latin America and look to potentially game-changing investment in a #3 or #4 operator in Asia, like Sun Cellular in the
And where will Bharti turn next? We shouldn’t be surprised to hear about Bharti acquiring a stake in some smaller African country like Tanzania. So keep watching this space.
- Rahul Gupta