UK's Vodafone sells $1.8 billion stake in India's Indus Towers; Airtel boosts stake

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Vodafone

By M. Sriram and Nandan Mandayam

MUMBAI (Reuters) -Vodafone Group has sold a bigger-than-planned 18% stake in India's Indus Towers, raising $1.82 billion that will serve to reduce its debt, the British telecom group said on Wednesday.

Bharti Airtel, India's no. 2 telecom company, said it bought about 1% of Indus shares in the transaction, bringing its stake in the mobile tower operator to around 49%.

Vodafone, which owned 21.5% of Indus prior to the sale, had initially planned to sell a 10% stake but strong investor demand made it nearly double the sale size, according to a banking source familiar with the matter who requested anonymity because the person was not authorised to speak to the media.

Vodafone said it sold 484.7 million Indus shares at 310-341 rupees per share, raising 153 billion rupees, or 1.7 billion euros, in gross proceeds that it will use to repay debt.

The group said it had bank borrowings of 1.8 billion euros against its Indian assets, which also include a stake in Vodafone Idea, the country's debt-saddled No.3 telecom operator by subscribers.

Indus shares closed down 3%, after sliding as much as 9.6% in its busiest session ever.

Besides Airtel, SBI Mutual Fund and Kotak Securities were also among buyers of Indus' shares, exchange data showed.

Vodafone Group now has a 3.1% stake in Indus. Vodafone Idea also has a stake in Indus. Private equity giant KKR and Canadian fund CPPIB sold their entire stakes in February.

Vodafone Group sold its stake via so-called block deals, where investors sell shares in the market. They have risen in popularity in India with the stock market trading at record-high levels.

Vodafone Idea shares ended 0.4% higher, while Bharti Airtel's shares closed down 2.5%. ($1 = 83.4300 Indian rupees)

(Reporting by Sriram Mani in Mumbai and Nandan Mandayam in Bengaluru; additional reporting by Hritam Mukherjee, Editing by Mrigank Dhaniwala, Savio D'Souza and Tomasz Janowski)