Idea Cellular: Buy.

>> Sunday, November 16, 2008

Investments with a two-year horizon may be considered in the shares of Idea Cellular (Idea), given the telecom operator’s strong pace of subscriber additions, entry into circles with higher realisations and synergies possible from Indus Towers.

Pressures on near term margins and earnings due to entry into new circles and high capital expenditure have seen the stock’s valuation being beaten down to a moderate 13 times forward earnings (estimated 2008-09). At Rs 48, the stock offers a good investment option for investors who are willing to look beyond the next few quarters, for appreciation over a 3-4 year time frame.

Once Idea’s capex in new circles tapers off (likely by mid 2010), its overall profitability would start to expand. Mobile number portability, on the anvil for 2009, may also work in Idea’s favour.

Idea’s profit margins over the last couple of quarters have come under strain, due to the capex for network rollout in Mumbai and Bihar, heavy rentals for tower infrastructure and marketing expenditure related to brand building. Though these forays are likely to remain in the investment phase for a while, the headway that Idea has made in capturing market share is impressive.

In Mumbai and Bihar, Idea has already managed to capture 18.5 per cent and 21 per cent share respectively in new subscriber additions within two months of launch. This is despite being the sixth or seventh operator in these circles. The subscriber churn rate in Idea’s existing 11 circles has declined.

Idea received an infusion of Rs 7,294.9 crore from TMI for a 14.9 per cent stake sale, and Rs 2,748 crore from Providence Equity for a 20 per cent stake sale in its subsidiary – Aditya Birla Telecom. This has ensured funds for Idea’s expansion in existing circles and entry into high-ARPU circles such as Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, where it is set to launch services over the next few months.

The acquisition of Spice Communications, apart from bringing in subscriber base, has given it access to the 900 Mhz band frequency in Karnataka, which entails lower expenses. The company has also improved its National Long Distance volumes and now carries 15 per cent of its own traffic. Over time, an increase here would drastically reduce access charges, aiding margins. Synergies from Indus Towers may aid quicker rollout and expansion in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka

From - TheHinduBusinessLine.Com