India’s Bharti profits jump 24 pct, still in MTN merger talks

NEW DELHI, July 23, 2009 (AFP) – India’s top mobile company, Bharti Airtel, reported Thursday that first-quarter net profit jumped 24 percent and said it was still in merger talks with South Africa’s flagship MTN cellular group. Bharti said net profit for the three months to June 30 rose to 25.17 billion rupees (526 million dollars) on revenues which jumped 17 percent to 99.42 billion, helped by strong subscriber growth especially in rural areas.

“This good performance validates our rural thrust and investments in the past three years,” said Bharti Airtel chairman Sunil Bharti Mittal.

The profit growth was in line with analysts’ forecasts but slowed from previous quarters in what the company called a “hyper-competitive environment.”

A decline in average revenue per user — a key industry measure of profitability — also fuelled investor concern that Bharti’s profitability was increasingly dependent on lower spending customers in rural areas.

Bharti shares closed down 1.09 percent or 8.95 rupees at 813.90 rupees.

Bharti would not elaborate on its merger talks with MTN that the two firms say would create an “emerging market telecom powerhouse” with more than 200 million subscribers and 20 billion d