Posts Tagged ‘emerging markets’

MTN-Bharti : a long winding road from India to South Africa

bharti-airtel-mtn-mergerIndia’s Bharti Airtel & South African operator MTN returned to the bargaining table this week, over a merger that could create a $20 billion mobile giant. The potential deal is attractive for both parties & if successful, would create a leading telecommunications service provider group aligning Bharti’s market leading Indian business with MTN’s market leading African and Middle Eastern operations. Combined operations would result in the group enjoying leading positions in three of the fastest growing wireless emerging markets ; India, Africa & the Middle East, with no overlapping footprint & subscriber base of circa 200 million.

Under the terms of the deal Bharti will acquire a 49% shareholding in MTN, in turn MTN and its shareholders would acquire a 36% percent economic interest in Bharti, of which 25% would be held by MTN, the remainder held directly by MTN shareholders, with the long term goal being a fully merger. The two companies have agreed to continue exlusive discussions until the end of July, at which time any issues will be resolved or other potential partners will be engaged.

Sunil Bharti Mittal, Chairman and Managing Director of Bharti, said “We are delighted at the prospect of developing a partnership with MTN to create an emerging market telecom powerhouse. Both companies would stand to gain significant benefits from sharing each other’s best practices in addition to savings emanating from enhanced scale. We see real power in the combination and we will work hard to unleash it for all our shareholders.”

“The rationale for this potential transaction between MTN and Bharti is highly compelling,” said Phuthuma Nhleko, CEO of MTN. “We are excited at the prospect of teaming up with Bharti, India’s number one wireless operator and one of the most strongly capitalised players amongst its emerging market peer group. This would create a highly visible commercial partnership between South Africa and India,”

Bharti & MTN have been here before, almost exactly a year ago. Previous talks were torpedoed by a lack of clear understanding on control between the two companies. At the last minute, MTN proposed a different structure where Bharti was to become a subsidiary of MTN. Bharti retreated from the deal on the basis that it felt MTNs position was a way of gaining indirect control of the combined entity, which would have compromised the minority shareholders of Bharti. This time round it has been made clear from the start that Bharti will be the primary vehicle for both Bharti and MTN to pursue further expansion in India and Asia while MTN would be the primary vehicle for both Bharti and MTN to pursue further expansion in Africa and the Middle East. Most importantly, Bharti would have substantial participatory and governance rights in MTN enabling it to fully consolidate the accounts of MTN.

When this was announced earlier this week, I decided to hold off on posting, as I wanted to see what would forthcoming once the dust had settled & also to get a better feel for some of the more convoluted relationships involved. One of the potential major hurdles to this deal from my perspective was the stance of Singapore Telecom (SingTel) which owns a 30% stake in Bharti Airtel. Bloomberg reported that SingTel would end up with a diluted position of 20% at the end of any full merger between the two. However it would seem that this could be offset by synergies across all of the combined networks of Bharti, MTN & SingTel. In addition to its strong domestic business, SingTel owns Australian carrier SingTel Optus & holds significant stakes in carriers in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan, Thailand, and the Philippines, commanding upwards of 290 million subscribers themselves. In the same Bloomberg report, SingTel spokesman Peter Heng states that “SingTel will remain a significant shareholder and strategic partner in Bharti post any successful transaction. We will continue to equity account for Bharti, in its enlarged form post the transaction if this is successful.”

Another potential challenge that was aired, is opposition by minority shareholders in MTN, however it has been reported today that the Mikati family which owns a 10% stake in MTN via the M1 Group, has said it will back the deal. The majority shareholder in MTN is South Africa’s state pension fund PIC, with a holding of 13.5%, to date there has been no statement from them. Other minority shareholders of MTN include Allan Gray, Polaris, Coronation and Stanlib, it would seem that these companies are not so bullish on the deal, at least not until further details come clear.

The South African press also gave some weight to the position of the highly politicised trade union federation COSATU (Congress of South African Trade Unions) which recently tried to scupper the full takeover of Telkom’s stake in Vodacom by Vodafone. However, COSATU spokesman, Mr Patrick Craven, has said the MTN deal was a different situation to that of the national carrier ;  “Telkom has always been 50% owned by the public & the move was part of our policy agenda against privatisation. MTN has always been a private company”

So it would seem that conditions are favourable to the potential transaction going forward, which would bring to fruition a long held ambition for Bharti to move into Africa, which remains the most underdeveloped of emerging markets regards telecoms. By leveraging across the combined networks of Bharti Airtel, MTN, SingTel & the Bridge Alliance (11 major operatots in Asia-Pac), the new Bharti-MTN will become a major powerhouse & definitely a very attractive investment for those involved in Global & Emerging Markets.

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China : The beginnings of a New World Order

CB013130Much was recently made of China’s physical gold stock revelation & rightly so. On a number of boards & blogs, I have stated my view that China is trying desperately to move away from USD denominated debt & will look at a multitude of ways of doing this. To recall, the 540 tonnes of gold that China has managed to stash was bought from national producers, therefore they did not need to spend a dime on the international markets to acquire it. By acquiring gold internally, it is free to hoard physical stocks almost anonymously & help drive the price of the yellow stuff up. Chinese officials have said that they want to be at 5,000 tonnes in the near future, which at a price of $900 per ounce would by value be around 10% of their total foreign currency holdings. Obviously this won’t happen overnight, however, as far as I am concerned, this is as strong a signal as our inscrutable paymasters are wont to give.

At the same time as the gold announcement, there were other topics afoot, notably the head economist of the Chinese National Bank publishing an open essay via the banks website, calling for a new global reserve currency, which sent tremors across the news networks & triggered much verbage on various blogs.  Almost simultaneously, we found that China had also succeeded in putting in place a number of currency swaps with various nations, once again managing to hedge a little more against the once mighty dollar.

In the first quarter, China agreed a 70 billion Renminbi ($8 billion) currency swap with Argentina that will allow it to receive Renminbi instead of U.S. dollars for its exports to the Latin American country. Beijing has also signed 650 billion Renminbi ($95 billion) worth of deals since December with Malaysia, South Korea, Hong Kong, Belarus & Indonesia. This would seem to be the start of a trend in SE Asia & also potentially further afoot.

Brazil‘s President Lula is presently on a global tour, having stopped in the Middle East for talks with various Arab nations regards Brazilian particpitation in oil & infrastructure projects. What has really caught my eye though is todays coverage in the Journal of Commerce regards Lula’s impending visit to Beijing. Having signed an oil for dollars deal with China last year, Lula is now courting for further cooperation between the two BRIC giants, particularly in aviation & infrastructure. Lula has already said that he is keen for the two nations to conduct busines via currency swaps, as this will ease trade & over reliance on the USD. In 2008, bilateral trade reached a record $48.98Bn, mostly in iron ore & soy products, companies such as Vale will not be slow to take advantage, as we reported in a recent post.

My contention is that China is at the centre of a huge & concerted effort within SE Asian & other Emerging Market nations to move away from USD dependancy. Look for China to form trade hegemony in Asia, as it slowly turns away from the West economicall. And rightly so, US & Western consumers will not be in a position to absorb China’s manufacturing & export capacity for a long time to come, forcing it to look for alternative markets, whilst putting in fiscal controls as we have seen above. Fund my Mutual Fund carries a very good article on this : It’s China’s World; the Rest of us Just Live in It …. sadly, I have to agree with him.

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Nokia gets thumbs up from China

china-mobile2Following on from the distribution of 3G licences earlier this year for China’s three mobile networks, China Mobile, China Telecom & China Unicom, along with the convoluted technology demands imposed by the regulator, signs are that Nokia will be sitting a little higher up the table at the tea party, as Chinese news portal Xinhua reports :

“China hopes Nokia will enhance cooperation with China’s information sector and play an active role in developing China’s TD-SCDMA industry, Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Dejiang said”

As we reported earlier this year, China looks to 3G networks to help stimulate economy, each of the operators is working on a different standard, China Telecom will work on the US standard CDMA 200, Unicom has gone down the W-CDMA route, whilst China Mobile (NYSE : CHL) has invested a veritable fortune in its home-grown standard TD-SCDMA.

From a political standpoint, it is pretty much a given that TD-SCDMA will not be allowed to fail, as the government is very much behind these moves. So what does this mean for equipment vendors ?

Basically, it has resulted in Western vendors like Alcatel-Lucent & Ericsson being marginalised when it comes to participation. Alcatel (NYSE : ALU) has managed to win business in 14 regions to partially satisfy China Unicoms requirements, whilst also signing $230 million worth of contracts with China Telecom.

“The drive for 3G (in China) is a very important stimulus for what I think is a very exciting market to come,” Ben Verwaayen, chief executive of Alcatel-Lucent, told reporters in Beijing yesterday. “If you look to the market and the economic crisis today, it is good to see that China is going to play a more prominent role than ever before.”

Ericsson (NYSE : ERIC) has stated that it has picked up 30% of China Unicoms 3G network requirements, leaving Chinese vendors Huawei & ZTE to fight over the spoils, with Huawei reportedly being the big winner.

So what about Nokia ?  Back in March, Nokia-Siemens Networks (NSN), a subsidiary of the Finnish mobile giant, announced the signing of framework agreements with both China Mobile and Unicom for up to US$1.1 billion in orders. NSN is one of the less recognised parts of Nokia’s business, however, it is definitely a division not to be ignored, Q1 2009 showed that NSN contributed  34% of group revenues.

Nokia has already provided major infrastructure deployments on China Mobile’s Phase II deployment of 3G network, on its testing rollout in Hainan province. Now with equipment currently being deployed across 28 major cities throughout China, Nokia Siemens Networks has provided the top performing city networks based on 3G TD-SCDMA commercial readiness, as laid down by the Chinese telecoms regulator.

“We are very confident of our 3G TD-SCDMA solution and feel proud to showcase its capabilities. Nokia Siemens Networks has provided us such tremendous on ground support, that our 2G and 3G TD-SCDMA networks are optimized and ready to handle high throughput and access rates demanded by cutting edge applications,” said Zhou Chengyang, President of Hainan MCC. “We have laid a solid foundation to launch commercial services in the Hainan province and are looking forward to working closely with Nokia Siemens Networks towards large scale and high quality TD-SCDMA services.”

So the expectation is that this suuccess will bleed over into Nokia’s main revenue driver, handsets. China Mobile is now becoming more of a commodity player with regards to handsets, as it is now looking to more rural areas for subscriber growth. My expectation is that Nokia will play a major part in this area, as discussed in a previous post, Nokia has a very strong back-catalogue of handsets to pick from & also enjoys higher margins in the low end sector than its competitors.

Having picked up on the Nokia ADR (NYSE : NOK) earlier this month & also enjoyed the $0.52 dividend yesterday, I had planned to drop 50% of my holding to place elsewhere. With this mornings news on official support for Nokia, I will now be holding a little longer term, looking for a target of $18.50 towards the end of the year.

Brazil’s Itaú-Unibanco rides wave of banking consolidation

itau-unibanco1Following last years merger between the number four & number two banks in Brazil last November, the newly forged conglomerate, Itaú-Unibanco (NYSE : ITU) is the frontrunner in a race for consolidation in the Brazilian banking market. The result being that Itaú-Unibanco is now 13% larger than Banco do Brasil and 58% than the other two main rivals, Bradesco (NYSE : BBD) & Spain’s Santander (NYSE : STD). At current prices, Itaú-Unibanco’s combined assets total $201 billion, while Banco do Brasil holds $178 billion and Bradesco $128 billion, only one billion ahead of Santander.

In the credit card segment, Itaú-Unibanco serves an estimated 30% of all credit cards issued in Brazil, which brings circa 36% of all cc revenues, making them far & away the market leader overnight. Unibanco brought a number of strategic assets with it in the November deal, notably Wealth Management with more than R$32.7 billion in assets under management, 14,356 points of service and 17.5 million customers.

Although there are obvious challenges in merging two large companies such as these, Itaú-Unibanco’s Chairman Pedro Moreira Salles remains bullish on expansion. Company executives are rumoured to be looking for international acquistion targets, Mexico being one of the favoured target countries.

“We want to be a bank that has the skill to operate around the world. We aspire to have a global scale” said Salles.

Sector watchers claim that Brazil’s banking consolidation will continue apace in 2009, the expectation being, in three to five years, five banking giants will control 85 percent of the market, with a balance between one public bank (Banco do Brasil), two private Brazilian banks (Itaú-Unibanco & Bradesco), with two foreign banks (Santander & HSBC).