Kolkata: Mexican Carlos Slim, the world's second-richest man behind Bill Gates, could be eyeing the Indian market as his telecom firm faces stiff challenges in its home market.
Slim, the 75-year-old owner of America Movil, made a quiet trip to India about two weeks ago to test the waters and explore partnerships between Latin America's leading telco and Indian business houses with telecom interests, three people aware of the visit told Economic Times.
America Movil's high-profile chairman, worth $77.1 billion according to Forbes, is believed to have met Videocon Group Chairman Venugopal Dhoot as well as senior executives of other mobile phone firms. The “Warren Buffett of Mexico,” as Slim is referred to, "expressed optimism about growth opportunities presented by the Indian telecom market," said one person aware of Slim’s talks with top Indian executives.
Slim's business interests range from telecommunications to education, healthcare, industrial manufacturing, food and beverages, real estate, airlines, media, mining, oil, hospitality, entertainment, technology, retail, sports and financial services.
When contacted over e-mail, an America Movil spokeswoman said, "We do not have any comments at this time on Mr. Slim's visit to India."
A top Videocon group executive said large international telcos “looking to India for growth had evinced an interest to make strategic investments in Videocon Telecom” and that the company was “in discussions with some of them.”
Industry executives said Slim also met senior officials of a Mumbai-based telecom company and Bharti Airtel. An Airtel spokesperson, however, denied the development and rejected the notion that there had been any talk of a likely investment.
"We strongly deny these speculation," the spokesperson said.
In January, Dhoot told Economic Times that Videocon's telecom unit had received queries from a Mexican company as well as an Indian telecom player looking to buy a 49% stake. Any deal could happen only after fresh rules on mergers and acquisitions are announced, he also said.
Videocon, one of the smallest telcos in India, is known to be keen to exit the spectrum-dependent mobility space. Norway's Telenor ASA is believed to be keen to buy a stake in Videocon.
Analysts said there is a strong business case for the global telecom company to expand its footprint to India, which offers greater growth opportunities than Latin America, Europe or Africa.
"America Movil has strong reasons to look to India for growth as it would be tapping into the world's second-largest telecom market by subscribers where annual data growth is also over 50%," said Hemant Joshi, a partner at Deloitte Haskins & Sells LLP. With its 1.25 billion population, India offers greater growth opportunities than Mexico, he added.
Another analyst at a European brokerage said it would make sense for America Movil to explore the Indian market, as it faces margin pressure in Mexico.
America Movil has operations in 18 countries in the Americas and seven in Europe. It has a controlling stake in Telekom Austria AG, which also has businesses in Bulgaria, Croatia and Belarus.
America Movil, which counts Brazil, the U.S. and Austria as its biggest markets after Mexico, is facing stiff challenges at home. Margins have shrunk to their narrowest since 2013 after a change in law sought to deter a dominant market player, or one that holds more than 50% of the market, from charging competitors for calls on its network.
America Movil controls about 80% of Mexico's landline market and 70% of its mobile market. The scrapping of domestic roaming charges has further hurt margins within Mexico. America Movil's wireless service revenues and subscribers both fell in the first quarter of 2015 while margins shrunk to 41.7% from 44.4% a year earlier.
-- By Special Arrangement