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Singtel to buy stake in Thailand's Intouch, boost holding in India's Bharti Telecom

Singapore Telecommunications Thursday said it will acquire a stake in Thailand's Intouch Holdings and boost its holding in India's Bharti Telecom (BTL) to take advantage of faster growth in emerging markets.

Singtel said in a statement that it plans to acquire a 21 percent stake in Intouch for 1.58 billion Singapore dollars ($1.18 billion) and an additional 7.39 percent stake in Bharti Telecom for 884 million Singapore dollars, through wholly-owned subsidiaries.

"These two transactions...allow us to increase our economic interest in two companies, Advanced Info Service (AIS) and Bharti Airtel, and to operate in two countries where we think there will be a lot more economic growth," said Chua Sock Koong, group chief executive officer at Singtel Group, in a First on CNBC interview.

She cited those countries' young population demographics as a positive for the telecom business.

In a later statement to the Stock Exchange of Thailand on Thursday, the CEO of Intouch, Philip Chen Chong Tan, said that Intouch hadn't received any formal information about the deal from its major shareholder.

Roslan Rahman | AFP | Getty Images

Singtel is buying the shares from wholly-owned subsidiaries of Temasek, the Singapore state investment arm which is the controlling shareholder of Singtel.

Singtel already owns a 39.78 percent stake in Bharti Telecom.

Intouch owns a 40.45 percent stake in Thai telecom operator Advanced Info Service and a 41.14 stake in Thaicom, which operates satellite and media businesses.

Bharti Telecom is the holding company of telecommunication company Bharti Airtel.

"Intouch and BTL own assets that are leaders in their respective markets, with strong track records of earnings growth. These investments position both companies well to compete and capture the growth in mobile internet services," Singtel said in a statement.

Singtel will be funding the deal with a combination of cash, debt and shares issued to Temasek, which would boost the fund's stake in the telco to around 52.3 percent.

The deal was "well-packaged" as it would boost Singtel's earnings without straining its finances, Nomura said in a note on Thursday.

"This is not a bad deal - it does not stress Singtel's balance sheet and at the same time is earnings and dividends accretive," Nomura said. It said it expected the deal could diversify Singtel's earnings "somewhat."

But the bank noted that returns in the Thai and Indian markets weren't always certain.

"It is not a given that the markets will be return accretive," Nomura said.

"Thailand and India's market demographics are favorably positioned for mobile revenue growth. However, these markets have been quite volatile and hence, it may not be easy to figure out how the market structure and economics will pan out in the next 10 years."

It kept a Buy call with a S$4.25 target on the stock.

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