Once bitten, twice shy.  Bharti chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal doesn’t believe in such clichés.  Unperturbed by the MTN debacle, Bharti is once again trying its luck in African with Zain, which undoubtedly is easier to grab than MTN. It’s actually imperative for Bharti to go for multi-country operators as domestic market has become overcrowded with 8-10 operators in each circle and more to come. We had in fact recommended in a recent report (http://www.strategyanalytics.com/default.aspx?mod=PressReleaseViewer&a0=4844) that Bharti should continue to look beyond India.  A couple of months back the government owned operator BSNL too showed its interest in Zain . At that time we said that the government owned operators should focus on domestic operations and warned that foreign acquisitions could turn out to be a disaster for them. (http://www.strategyanalytics.com/default.aspx?mod=ReportAbstractViewer&a0=5097) Well, I don’t want to claim that Bharti and BSNL have gone by our recommendations but I certainly believe that they are taking the right approach: Bharti, by going aggressively for Zain and BSNL for withdrawing from it. Bharti has entered into an exclusive talk with Zain till March 25, but this US$ 10.7 billion deal is not as lucrative as it looks. There are some obvious hurdles, which I guess Bharti was expecting. A minority shareholder has emerged from nowhere to claim that Nigerian operations are not covered under this sale. Strive Masiyiwa, the CEO of Econet Wireless, which has a 5% stake in the Nigerian operations of Zain said that Zain gave an undertaking last year that it would not sell its Nigerian assets and he hopes that Zain has disclosed this to Bharti. If this claim holds up it is unlcear what Bharti will get from this deal. Nigerian operations are actually the main contributor to Zain’s overall revenue including Middle-East operations. In 2008, Zain generated fifth of its EBTIDA margins and 22% of its total sales from Nigeria. The other major headache is Zain’s license in Niger. The Niger regulator has reduced the duration of Zain’s license by five years citing poor quality of service, which essentially means Zain will have to wind up its Niger operations this year (Niger license was issued in 2000 for 15 years)or convince the regulator to revoke the decision .

But I hope that this deal will see the light at the end of the tunnel and won’t turn out to be a disaster like MTN for Bharti.

Rahul Gupta