AGR woes: What if Vodafone Idea is forced to shut down

The social impact of this could be worse as 300 million subscribers may face the annoyance of network shutdown and churn.

A possible default by Vodafone Idea (Voda-Idea) in paying its adjusted gross revenue (AGR) dues and the company shutting down operations will have serious repercussion on the telecom and banking sectors in particular and the economy in general with large magnitude of debt default, job losses and customer annoyance as the telco faces an imminent risk of shutdown.

A default by Voda-Idea and the company shutting shop, analysts say, could increase India’s fiscal deficit by 40 basis points (bps).

While presenting the Union Budget for financial year 2020-21 (FY21), the government had pegged the fiscal deficit for FY21 at 3.8 per cent of GDP (gross domestic product) and at 3.5 per cent for FY20.

“Voda-Idea has gross debt of Rs 1.2 trillion, of which around Rs 900 billion is government’s deferred spectrum debt, while around Rs 250 billion is bank debt.

“A default of such a large scale could increase India’s fiscal deficit by nearly 40 bps, thus having the deepest impact on government receipts despite winning the suit, while creating ripples in the banking sector,” wrote Gautam Duggad, head of research for institutional equities at Motilal Oswal Financial Services (MOFSL) in a recent note.

The social impact of this could be worse as 300 million subscribers may face the annoyance of network shutdown and churn. Reports peg the job loss at Voda-Idea at a staggering 13,500 employees.

This is merely the direct impact, while the indirect impact on multiple vendors and other stakeholders could be even worse.

“Ironically, the government, despite winning the suit, could see the biggest impact through deferred spectrum debt default Rs 900 billion.

“Even with some relief of AGR liability, Voda-Idea would have found it difficult to service debt and capex needs through its operating cash flow,” Duggad says.

The decision to expedite the payment by last week took the companies and the Street by surprise.

Most analysts had expected the government to relax the payment timeline and give companies room to secure funding.

“Our base case had built relief in terms of payment options. This is as even with recent price hikes VodaIdea will face challenges to pay the AGR dues.

“We expected a moratorium for two years and staggered payments post that over a period of time.

“Without relief on AGR dues, we see solvency challenges for VodaIdea. Even with the reliefs, AGR dues are a drag and will affect operations, and we expect it to lose market share,” wrote Piyush Nahar, an equity analyst at Jefferies in a recent note.

Bharti Airtel to weather the storm

Most analysts remain bullish on Bharti Airtel.

They believe the company is better placed and can pay the whole amount by March.’

“In case of Voda-Idea going into NCLT, Bharti will gain substantial market share and will be the beneficiary.

“It, however, will also see increased cost and capex in near term.

“In case of Voda-Idea getting relief it will still gain market share though valuations then limit upside. We retain Hold as we await more clarity,” Nahar said.

If we assume a duopoly scenario, Duggad of MOFSL expects Bharti to generate incremental Rs 100 billion in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation (Ebitda) assuming it gets 40 per cent revenue share and 50 per cent Ebitda margin (building incremental network cost for higher capex intensity).

118 million broadband customers and 3.8b GB of data traffic could increase Bharti/RJio traffic volume by about 30-40 per cent. “At 10x EV/EBITDA, Bharti Airtel could derive a blue-sky target price of Rs 825,” Duggad says.

Photograph: Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters

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