Airtel plans Rs 19,000-cr capex this year despite 72% decline in net profit

Despite a 72 per cent decline in net profit for the March quarter, telecom major Bharti Airtel said it was committing a capital expenditure of $3 billion (Rs 19,300 crore) this financial year, of which $500 million would be spent in Africa.

Nilanjan Roy, its global chief financial officer, said so in a conference call after announcing its quarterly results. The share price closed on Wednesday at Rs 372.70, about eight per cent higher, despite the 72 per cent fall in the quarterly net profit to Rs 373.4 crore. During the day, the stock had soared 10 per cent to Rs 380.05.

Analysts feel the rally was mainly on account of the belief that the Africa region would do well in the future. In constant currency terms, revenues in its African operations grew by 2.6 per cent over a year. Data revenue at $157 million grew by 14.5 per cent on a year before, with a rise in the data customer base by 19.3 per cent and traffic by 77 per cent.

Consolidated revenue was down 8.8 per cent over a year during the quarter, at Rs 21,935 crore. The company bore the brunt of of Reliance Jio’s aggressive pricing strategy. The latter had launched its free voice and data plan in September last year, and then extended it till end-March. It currently still offers free voice services, while its data rates are lower than those of the incumbents.

The others in the sector allege Jio's predatory pricing has hit the sector's financial health. The telecom industry owes about Rs 4.6 lakh crore to financial institutions. 

Bharti Airtel’s average revenue per user (Arpu) declined 18 per cent to Rs 158 in the period, against Rs 194 in the same period of the previous financial year. Data continued to cannibalise voice, as seen in the decline of the voice Arpu to Rs 114 from Rs 138 in the earlier March quarter. The data Arpu at Rs 162 was higher but 17 per cent less than the Rs 196 in January-March 2016. 

The company made two key strategic announcements in the quarter, the acquisition of Telenor India and agreement with Tikona Digital Networks to acquire its fourth-generation technology (4G) business. 

The firm stands to gain on the spectrum front from both deals. Acquisition of Telenor India would provide 43.4 MHz of additional airwaves in seven telecom circles — Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, Gujarat, UP (East), UP (West) and Assam. The agreement with Tikona means 100 MHz spectrum in the 2,300 MHz band and 350 sites in five circles.

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