Nick Read, Vodafone's CEO may have issued ultimatum to Indian government

Last Updated: Tue, Nov 12, 2019 15:18 hrs
Nick Read

According to latest media reports, Vodafone Group's CEO, Nick Read may have issued an ultimatum to the Indian government that the firm was in no position to infuse any fresh funds for its India operations.

By Tuesday noon, several British reports speculated that the CEO may have issued an ultimatum to the government by suggesting that the government allow it to better compete with Mukesh Ambani's Jio on 5G capabilities or else Vodafone Idea was doomed for a potentially chaotic end with "repercussions for India's international standing."

In an unconfirmed media report doing the social rounds, Read's correspondence is as follows:

"either they [government] should take their boots off the neck of the industry and allow it to better compete with Mukesh Ambani on 5G, or Vodafone Idea is destined for a potentially chaotic final act with potential repercussions for India's international standing."

The British media's analysis of Vodafone that has been slapped with a tax dispute on arrival and has also been left squeezed in recent times in a disrupted telecom market is that of potential destruction of value. Reports have so far suggested the British firm from pumping any fresh infusion in India operations considering the significant destruction of value.

Reports also suggest of Read as having communicated to the Modi government that no fresh capital will be infused in India. This, ahead of the half year assessment that is expected to be announced on Tuesday.

Vodafone entered the market in 2007 via a multibillion-pound acquisition. Since then it has pumped in billions more, always hoping that the sheer scale of India would one day deliver returns to match. "Throughout, however, Indian officialdom welcomed Vodafone with all the warmth of a Himalayan mountaintop. It has been in court since the moment it arrived and used as a soft target by politicians and taxmen. The destruction of value has been complete," a report said.

According to reports, the Vodafone chief executive has had enough in the Indian market as a major foreign investor.

Vodafone, the reports suggest is also unhappy with the way several policy decisions have gone against it and favoured Reliance Jio.

Shareholders have already written off the value of Vodafone Idea so if it goes bust the fallout should be readily containable, the reports said.

Vodafone is also facing a pile of debt in the home markets of UK and would find it difficult to again invest so much in India.

Reports said that Read, Vodafone's chief executive for little over a year, is one foreign investor who has had enough, it seems.

A Bloomberg report on Tuesday said that the Vodafone Group may be forced to slash as much as 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) off the book value of its Indian venture reeling from spectrum payment demands and a ruthless price war.

Analysts referred by the report explained that the company could write down a 45% stake in Vodafone Idea Ltd to around 600 million euros ($662 million) in half-year results on Tuesday, from 1.6 billion euros in May.

With shares already losing two-thirds of their valuations since May, Read has pledged that no fresh infusions are coming into the India operations. Last month the Supreme Court's decision on Adjusted Gross revenuehas spooked market incumbents such as Vodafone-Idea and Bharti Airtel. Market association, COAI, said that the decision could spook the telecom markets in the country, however, Mukesh Ambani's Jio lashed out on the association and has also alleged that the market incumbents had deep pockets to pay for government dues.

Vodafone offers its subscribers significant services in the UK including 5G telephony. In India, the spectrum allocation for 5G services is on the cards and latest reports indicate that lower base prices were being mulled. With auctions likely to be held before March 31, 2020, the bigger question would be the sustainability of a major market player in an already tougher and disruptive telecom market.

Disclaimer: Image of Nick Read is with the kind courtesy of Vodafone.