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Vodafone Idea trims losses to Rs 4,882 crore, CEO says initiatives take since merger yielding results

FE Bureau

Vodafone Idea on Monday narrowed its consolidated net loss during the January-March quarter at Rs 4,882 crore on the back of lower operating costs due to realisation of merger synergies. However, it was still wider than the Bloomberg consensus estimate of Rs 4,721 crore.

The firm had reported a net loss of Rs 5,004.6 crore at the end of December quarter, and a net loss of about Rs 4,974 crore in the preceding September quarter.

Revenues during the quarter at Rs 11,775 remained flat sequentially, after suffering a decline of 2.2% in the previous quarter and a 7.1% fall in the September quarter.

The company said revenues benefited from the introduction of service validity vouchers removing those customers from the network who recharge for less than Rs 35 a month due to which the average daily revenue during the quarter grew by 2.3% sequentially, following 11 consecutive quarters of decline.

On a comparison with other telcos, Vodafone Idea s revenues are higher than Bharti Airtel s India wireless revenue of Rs 10,632 crore in the March quarter, and Jio s Rs 11,106 crore.

Total operating expenses during the quarter declined sequentially due to the realisation of merger synergies. The company said underlying operating expenses of Rs 7,480 crore (excluding licence fees & spectrum usage charges and roaming & access charges) declined by Rs 1,280 crore compared with Q1FY19 after adjusting for certain one-offs of about Rs 200 crore, inflation driven cost increases and incremental network rollout. This is equivalent to an annualised synergy realisation of about Rs 5,100 crore, around 60% of the Rs 8,400 crore synergy target.

Consequently, its Ebitda, however, remains the lowest among competitors at Rs 1,785 crore, registered a sharp increase of 57% sequentially. The Ebitda margin at 15.2% was higher than 9.7% in the preceding quarter, though the industry s lowest. On the Ebitda and margin front, Vodafone Idea beat estimates.

The most striking aspect during the quarter was the sharp rise in company s average realisation per user (Arpu) Rs 104 compared with Rs 89 in the previous quarter, showing that the company s minimum monthly recharge scheme of Rs 35 introduced in Q3FY19 is paying off.

Vodafone Idea introduced the minimum recharge scheme on a national basis during Q3. This has resulted in a decline of 53.2 million low Arpu subscribers taking the overall subscriber base to 334.1 million versus 387.2 million in the previous quarter.

Though yielding results, Vodafone Idea s Arpu still remains below the Arpu of 126.2 of Reliance Jio. While Bharti Airtel did not disclose its operational metrics for the March quarter due to the ongoing rights issue process of the company, it is estimated to be at around Rs 120.

On other key operating metrics, the data volumes for Vodafone Idea increased 8.9% q-o-q to 29,47,472 million megabytes. The growth was slower compared to a 11.5% increase witnessed in Q3FY19, and less than a third of Reliance Jio. The company s voice traffic, with total volume of 7,02,749 million minutes was also lower compared to Jio s, after leading the pack for the past two quarters. The voice usage per subscriber at Rs 662 minutes was also lower compared to Jio s 823 minutes. This is understandable because of the removal of large number of subscribers due to the minimum monthly recharge plan.

Commenting on the performance, Vodafone Idea CEO Balesh Sharma said: The initiatives we have taken since the merger are yielding positive results and we are well on track to deliver our synergy targets two years early .

The company completed its rights issue raising of Rs 25,000 crore recently. The issue witnessed a strong participation from public shareholders (ex-promoters) resulting in 1.2x subscription for the public component of the issue.

The merger of Bharti Infratel and Indus Towers has received approval from the Competition Commission India, the Securities and Exchange Board of India, shareholders and creditors. An application for sanction of the scheme has been filed with the NCLT and the matter is listed for final hearing, company said in a statement.

Vodafone Idea has an option to sell its 11.15% stake in Indus, which has an implied value of Rs 6,160 crore (based on the VWAP for Bharti Infratel s shares during the last 60 trading days as at March 31, 2019), for cash at completion.

The company is also exploring options to monetise over 158,000 km of intra-city and inter-city fibre.

Vodafone Idea s gross debt as on March 31, 2019, was Rs 1.26 lakh crore, including deferred spectrum payment obligations due to the government of Rs 90,680 crore. The gross debt as on December 31, 2018, stood at Rs 1.24 lakh crore. Cash & cash equivalents were Rs 7,550 crore resulting in net debt of Rs 1.18 lakh crore versus Rs 1.15 lakh crore in Q3FY19.