India's Airtel says not in talks to buy Vodafone UK's Indus Towers stake

FILE PHOTO: A Bharti Airtel office building is pictured in Gurugram

BENGALURU (Reuters) -Bharti Airtel is not in talks to buy UK-based Vodafone Group's 21.05% stake in Indus Towers, the Indian telecom operator said on Wednesday, after a newspaper reported that it was eyeing the stake.

The Economic Times said in a report that if the deal went through, Vodafone Group could infuse some of the proceeds into Vodafone Idea, its cash-strapped Indian venture with Aditya Birla Group.

"The company has no desire to raise its stake beyond what is required for financial consolidation of Indus in the company, which shall be done as and when appropriate with compliance of applicable disclosure requirements," Airtel said in an exchange filing.

Billionaire Sunil Mittal's Airtel is the largest shareholder in telecom infrastructure developer Indus Towers with a 47.95% stake.

Vodafone Group, Vodafone Idea and Indus Towers did not respond to Reuters requests for comment.

Airtel's shares were last up 0.3% while Vodafone Idea dropped 4.5% on Wednesday. Indus Towers reversed course to trade 1.4% lower at 354.40 rupees.

The Economic Times reported that discussions were stalled over valuation as Airtel was not willing to buy the stake at Indus Towers' current share price, which has climbed over 77% since January.

Airtel is looking for a valuation of 210-212 rupees per share - the level at which U.S. private equity fund KKR and Canadian pension fund Canada Pension Plan Investment Board sold shares in Indus in February, the newspaper reported.

Earlier this month, Vodafone Idea raised 20.75 billion rupees ($249.08 million) as part of a larger equity funding from Aditya Birla Group entity Oriana Investments via preferential shares.

It plans to raise 200 billion rupees through equity and 250 billion rupees via debt, it said in February, to roll out its 5G network service and expand its 4G coverage. Larger rivals Airtel and Reliance Jio have already launched their 5G services in most parts of the country.

($1 = 83.3080 Indian rupees)

(Reporting by Rama Venkat in Bengaluru; Editing by Rashmi Aich and Janane Venkatraman)