January 30, 2018 / 6:24 PM / 10 months ago

India's Airtel sees little value in acquiring Nigeria's 9mobile -sources

LAGOS, Jan 30 (Reuters) - India’s largest telecoms operator, Bharti Airtel does not see much value in buying debt-laden Nigerian rival 9mobile and withdrew from submitting a firm bid before the deadline, two industry sources with knowledge of the deal told Reuters.

Barclays Africa is examining takeover bids from prospective buyers for 9mobile. However, a deal may take a few months as it will involve restructuring 9mobile’s debt after a default last year.

Airtel had expressed an interest to acquire the Nigerian firm as part of plans to consolidate its position in Africa’s biggest telecoms market, but it declined to submit a financial bid before a Jan. 16 deadline.

“Airtel is not interested in 9mobile because it sees little value in the company,” one source said.

Another source said the Indian company did not have sufficient information to make an informed bid but added that privately-held Nigerian telecoms firm Globacom had submitted a financial bid.

No-one at Bharti Airtel in Nigeria or India was immediately available to comment.

Bharti Airtel, headed by Indian billionaire Sunil Mittal, last year reported a 30.8 percent fall in first-quarter net profit, blaming an adverse foreign exchange impact in Nigeria.

Previously known as Etisalat Nigeria, 9mobile took out a $1.2 billion syndicated loan from a group of 13 local banks in 2013 but struggled to make repayments last year, forcing its lenders to step in.

The central bank then intervened to stop creditors from putting it into receivership, leading to a change in its board and management, as well as its new company name.

The crisis forced parent company Etisalat to terminate its management agreement with the Nigerian business and surrender its 45 percent stake to a trustee after the central bank intervention.

Since the debt problems came to light, 9mobile, the country’s fourth-biggest operator, has rapidly lost subscribers. In October its users numbered 17.1 million, giving it a 12.2 percent market share, down from 20 million earlier last year, Nigerian telecoms regulator said.

South Africa’s MTN, the market leader, has a 36.1 percent share of the market in Nigeria. (Reporting by Chijioke Ohuocha, editing by David Evans)

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