Reliance Communications on Tuesday said it is in advanced talks with several consortiums to sell its tower unit, bringing the company closer to possibly sealing a deal after trying for more than a year to offload the stake and shave debt.
"When we hopefully conclude the Reliance Infratel transaction, it will be the largest private equity transaction in the history of this country," Chairman Anil Ambani, India's eighth richest man according to Forbes, told shareholders at its annual meeting.
Sources told Reuters in August the company, saddled with more than $7 billion in debt, had hired UBS and sought $5 billion for its 95-percent stake in the unit.
But potential bidders had expressed concern about debt-laden Reliance's valuation being at least a billion dollars too high, the sources had said, adding there were no offers on the table because of the big valuation gap.
UBS had reached out to US companies American Tower and Crown Castle International, India's Viom Networks and UAE's Etisalat , the sources had said.
The bank had also reached out to private-equity firms Carlyle, Apax Partners and Blackstone, the sources said.
"We are in an advanced stage of negotiations with a number of consortiums who have expressed great interest in this very valuable asset and I'm sure that we will be able to move forward expeditiously," Ambani said on Tuesday.
Reliance Communications is battling a fast-growing but ferociously competitive Indian cellular market as low call prices and high operational costs squeeze margins.
Eight straight quarters of falling profits and failed attempts to raise cash are eroding investor confidence in the company, whose stock has lost 44 percent of its value so far this year, leaving the company valued at $3.4 billion.
But in a sign of confidence, Ambani also said Reliance Comm's founders would raise their stake in the company to 75 per cent, from 67.9 per cent at the end of June.
Shares in the company, which were up 3.3 per cent in a rising market, extended their gains to as much as 4.9 per cent following the news.
This is not Reliance Comm's first attempt at raising cash and cutting debt.
Last year, India's second-largest mobile phone carrier by subscribers tried to sell 26 per cent stake in itself to pare debt. But it found no takers.
A plan to float its tower unit in an initial public offering also failed to take off and a deal to merge its tower arm with a rival collapsed.
But Ambani expressed optimism on Tuesday. "I am committed and the company is committed to ensure our debt levels are substantially reduced," he said.
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