Vodafone may sell shares in Indian unit to raise $2 billion

Mumbai: Vodafone Group Plc is taking forward the process of selling shares in its Indian unit to raise as much as $2 billion (around Rs.13,300 crore), four people familiar with the development said.

The UK-based telecom firm is looking to hire investment bankers to handle the initial public offering (IPO) by the end of this month or early next month, said the four people, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“The company had asked merchant bankers to submit proposals for the IPO mandate this week. By next week they are expected to shortlist a set of bankers, who will be invited to pitch for the final IPO mandate,” one of the four people said.

All major domestic and international bankers are expected to pitch for the mandate, this person said.

The planned IPO could see the telco raise up to $2 billion, another person aware of the development said.

Newbury, England-based Vodafone has asked interested banks to sign non-disclosure pacts ahead of receiving more detailed information on the India unit and its listing plans,Bloomberg reported earlier this month, citing people who didn’t want to be identified.

On Friday, business news channel CNBC TV18 reported the firm is likely to shortlist 18 banks for the IPO mandate.

In an email response to queries, Vodafone said: “We have previously said we have started preparations for a potential IPO, which includes private conversations with banks, but this is a lengthy process and no decision will be made until we are at the end of it.”

Vodafone is expected to ask bankers to make final pitches around the end of the month, said a third person. The firm has not yet disclosed whether this will be a pure stake sale by the parent firm or also involve primary capital raising, he added.

Vodafone may sell about 10% of the India business through the share sale that would value the operations at $20 billion, the Bloomberg report said.

Bharti Airtel Ltd, Vodafone’s rival and India’s largest telco by number of subscribers, has a market capitalization ofRs.1.4 trillion (approximately $21.3 billion). Idea Cellular Ltd has a market cap of Rs.41,315.85 crore (approximately $6.2 billion).

The movement towards an IPO comes even as Vodafone wages a protracted battle with Indian tax authorities.

The tax department and Vodafone have been locked in a dispute since 2007 over the telecom company’s $11 billion acquisition of Hutchison Essar Ltd, now known as Vodafone India Ltd. The tax demand, which was initially around Rs.8,000 crore, has now more than doubled to Rs.20,000 crore after adding interest and penalty.

Though the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Vodafone in the tax case, the government in 2012 introduced retrospective amendments to tax laws, bringing such transactions under the tax net. This prompted Vodafone to launch international arbitration proceedings.