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Hindujas look all set to acquire Hutch stake in JV

Gopichand Hinduja claims to have received favourable response from Hutch about its acquisition of stake in the joint venture, reports Vijay Dutt.

india Updated: Jan 05, 2007 20:40 IST
Vijay Dutt
Vijay Dutt

The Hinduja group appeared to be one step ahead of its rivals in the race to acquire Hutchison Telecommunications International's (HTIL) stake in Hutchison Essar.

"We have received a favourable response from Hutch," Gopichand Hinduja told Hindustan Times on Thursday. "We sent them a message reminding them of our understanding that whenever they de-invested they would also give us an opportunity."

"Hutch was our partner but due to consolidation our share-holding went down to five or six per cent, which was not consistent with our business philosophy. We always believe that our investment in companies should be 51 per cent or more," he added.

"Our relationship with Hutch has always been very good. We have lived together in the Gujarat telecom circle in India. Now they have welcomed our interest and are waiting for our proposal," Hinduja revealed.

"We were the first to get into the telecom sector in India when we were awarded Gujarat and Tamil Nadu circles," he went on. "We have developed the Gujarat circle. We know the ins and outs of the business."

Recent reports have indicated that the Hindujas, who have estimated assets of £8 bn (Rs 68000 crore), are now set to expand their business globally (evidence: acquisition of Aviva) and are in particular looking towards India. "Environment is very friendly in India for investors," Hinduja noted.

Meanwhile, a key Vodafone shareholder told The Times, London, that the group should consider abandoning its $18 billion (Rs 81,000 crore) pursuit of Hutchison Essar with the billionaire Hinduja brothers having entered the fray.

State Street, which holds about 1.7 per cent of the world's biggest mobile group, was cited saying that Vodafone risked repeating past mistakes of overpaying in an overheated situation.

"The key is that Vodafone must meet the acquisition criteria it has set. If it looks as though they might be breached, then it must be prepared to walk away," said a senior State Street investment manager.

Analyst Morten Singleton at WestLB iterated, "At the higher price levels we are looking at now, it looks increasingly risky for Vodafone."

Vodafone, too, recently laid down strict new acquisition rules. The rules, which are aimed at ensuring that transactions yield a return above the cost of capital within three to five years, came about in response to fierce criticism about the company's performance under its present CEO Arun Sarin's management, said the Times report.

"But the group has yet to explain to its shareholders how a bid for Hutchison Essar will fit those criteria. Investors say they would need cast-iron evidence of the deal's merit before agreeing to it."

Other suitors include Essar, Hutchison's 33 per cent joint venture partner; Reliance, India's second-biggest mobile operator; and Maxis, the Malaysian mobile operator.

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