Amazon in initial talks to buy stake in Airtel: Sources

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    Telecom operator Bharti Airtel posted a consolidated loss of Rs 5,237 crore for the January-March quarter mainly on account of provisions for statutory dues
    Telecom operator Bharti Airtel

    New Delhi, Jun 4 (PTI) E-commerce giant Amazon is in exploratory discussions with telecom operator Bharti Airtel for a possible investment, according to sources.

    While the investment amount could not be immediately ascertained, a report pegged it at about USD 2 billion.

    When contacted, a Bharti spokesperson said, “We routinely work with all digital and OTT players and have deep engagement with them to bring their products, content and services for our wide customer base. Beyond that there is no other activity to report.”

    An Amazon India spokesperson said the company does not comment on speculation about what it may or may not do in future.

    The latest buzz comes at a time when Indian telecom companies seem to be on the radar of global investors and tech giants.

    Over the past few weeks, Reliance Industries’ digital unit Jio Platforms has raised billions of dollars from marquee technology investors including Facebook, KKR, Silver Lake Partners, Vista Equity Partners and General Atlantic.

    Market sources said talks are on between Amazon and Airtel for a possible investment and equity buy, but the discussions are at a “very initial stage”.

    An industry watcher who did not wish to be identified said more deals may be in the offing as global tech companies eye a bigger slice of the Indian market, working in tandem with the telecom operators.

    At 574 million, India boasts of the world’s second largest base of internet users.

    Last week, there were reports that Alphabet Inc’s Google is eyeing about 5 per cent stake in Vodafone Idea, although the telecom operator clarified that it constantly evaluates various opportunities and there is no proposal before the board of the firm as yet.

    On May 26, Airtel’s promoter firm Bharti Telecom sold 2.75 per cent stake in the company to institutional investors in the secondary market, raising over Rs 8,433 crore. The sale proceeds will be fully utilised to repay debt at Bharti Telecom and will make the promoter holding firm a ‘debt free company’.

    Amazon, which has pumped billions of dollars into its Indian e-commerce operations, is looking at strengthening its foothold in the local market.

    A potential investment will provide it greater firepower to take on Walmart-backed Flipkart as well as recently launched JioMart, following Facebook’s USD 5.7 billion investment in Jio Platforms.

    JioMart — a new Reliance Retail Ltd commerce marketplace which connects customers with kirana stores and other small and micro-local Indian businesses — plans to leverage the huge reach that Facebook’s WhatsApp has in the country.

    Apart from investing in e-commerce and food retail businesses, Amazon has also picked up stake in various offline retail chains in India.

    In 2017, retail major Shoppers Stop had announced raising Rs 179.26 crore from Amazon.com Investment Holdings LLC through an issue of equity shares, which translated to just over 5 per cent shareholding.

    In September 2018, Amazon said it had co-invested in Witzig Advisory Services, the entity which had acquired Aditya Birla Retail’s More chain of stores in India.

    In August last year, Future Retail had informed stock exchanges that Amazon.Com NV Investment Holdings LLC would acquire 49 per cent stake in Future Coupons Ltd from the promoters, led by Kishore Biyani, for an undisclosed amount. At that time, Future Coupons held 7.3 per cent stake in Future Retail.

    Source: PTI

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