Analysts said market leader Bharti Airtel is slated to report a net loss in the fiscal fourth quarter ended March — its first in 15 years — stung by a mix of continued pricing aggression from Reliance Jio Infocomm, a cut in international termination rates, and a move from subscribers to lower priced bundled packs from higher ones.
They said that the No. 3 carrier Idea Cellular's losses are also set to widen in the March quarter, primarily hit by negative operational leverage.
Brokerages, however, are split over the quantum of Airtel’s likely loss in the March quarter with Bank of America-Merrill Lynch estimating it at Rs 58.5 crore, while Kotak Securities sees the country’s top phone company reporting a near Rs 377 crore net loss, also hurt by reduced local interconnect rates. Bharti Airtel had last reported a net loss back in 2002.
Bank of America-Merrill Lynch estimates Idea’s net loss to mount further to Rs 1,494 crore in the March quarter. The Kumar Birla-led carrier, which had reported a Rs 1,284.5 crore net loss in the December quarter, is on the verge of closing its merger with Vodafone India.
Airtel shares closed 1.83% higher on BSE Tuesday at Rs 401.65, while the Idea scrip was marginally down 0.19% to Rs 77.45.
Bank of America-Merrill Lynch expects “Bharti Airtel and Idea to report a weak set of numbers in the March quarter, and sees revenues of both companies remaining under pressure due to interconnect rate cuts and continued ARPU (average revenue per user) down trading, even though the magnitude is declining”.
Analysts see Bharti Airtel’s India cellular revenue declining by 5% on-quarter amid down trading pressures, and Idea’s dipping by a similar level.
The US brokerage estimates Airtel’s consolidated revenue in the fiscal fourth quarter to fall 11% from Rs 21,935 crore a year ago, and predicts Idea’s plunging by as much as 24% from `8,126 crore a year ago. Brokerages also estimate the Sunil Mittal-led telco's operating income for the quarter to March to be in the Rs 6,705-6,950 crore range, reflecting a 7-10% sequential fall.
Analysts, in fact, do not expect any cost-control measures to drive any sequential improvement in Airtel’s margins in the January-March period unlike in the past quarters. Kotak Securities, in turn, “builds in 8-9% on-quarter ARPU decline for both Airtel and Idea,” largely triggered by Jio’s pricing moves in January” that compelled both listed telcos “to cut prices selectively”.