Monday, May 25, 2009

Bharti-MTN deal : Sniffer dogs at work ?

My experience with M&A deal structures tells me that the level of distrust between the parties can be gauged by the magnitude of its complexity. By complexity I mean insistence on back to back cross holdings, layered cash and share swaps and other exhaustive clauses in the share swap agreements relating to Board composition, management, operational checks and internal audit.

Going by that, I am not surprised why the stock markets gave a thumps down to the news of Bharti-MTN merger. The Bharti share fell 5.41 per cent to close at Rs 811.85 on the Bombay Stock Exchange, on a day the Sensex rose 26 points.

The deal is not just complex by size, it’s structure too is no less contorted. Sample this. Under the deal, MTN will issue new shares (they prefer to call it “economic interest” instead of plain “shares” – probably an indication of refusal to imply ceding of management control to pacify regulators) to Bharti. The Indian company will also acquire around 36 per cent of MTN’s current paid-up capital from its shareholders at $10.2 per share, entailing a cash outgo of $6.8 billion. The fresh share issue will eventually take Bharti’s shareholding in MTN to 49 per cent.

In return, Bharti will issue 0.5 GDRs for every MTN share it acquires. The Indian promoters will eventually see a dilution of their 45.30 per cent stake in Bharti.

Even if it is to avoid regulatory hurdles, anti-trust allusions or even triggering of open offer requirements to other minority shareholders that can drive up the price ( open offer is triggered when stake in excess of 15% is acquired in an Indian company with the exception for inter-promoter swap or cross holdings), the deal structure is far too complex for execution because the exhaustive approvals and information sharing between the parties called for will certainly limit operational flexibility to a large extent – a factor that has been instrumental for the rapid growth of Bharti (and possibly MTN too) in India.

I see more of mutual suspicion than synergies in this deal. Shall be glad if proved wrong.

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