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Mon 30 Sep 2019 03:33 PM

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Tycoon Anil Ambani faces investors again with vow to cut debt

Ambani is struggling to save the remnants of his telecommunications-to-infrastructure empire from collapse after his wireless carrier Reliance Communications slipped into insolvency earlier this year

Tycoon Anil Ambani faces investors again with vow to cut debt
Anil Ambani

Four years into one of the biggest, longest unwindings in India’s corporate history, tycoon Anil Ambani found himself in a familiar place Monday: Presenting shareholders with another plan to sell off assets and pay debt.

His Reliance Group is planning to pay creditors 150 billion rupees ($2.1 billion) more by March, the embattled executive told investors on Monday in Mumbai. Financial unit Reliance Capital Ltd., whose credit rating was downgraded to default by local firms this month, will exit its lending business, he said.

Ambani, 60, is struggling to save the remnants of his telecommunications-to-infrastructure empire from collapse after his wireless carrier, Reliance Communications Ltd., slipped into insolvency earlier this year. Once a billionaire, his personal fortune has dwindled over the years as his businesses sank under the weight of debt. As of July, four of the biggest group firms, excluding the phone company, had about 939 billion rupees of debt.

Ambani is planning further disposals just as some of India’s biggest conglomerates are doing the same and lenders are pulling back on loans to strengthen their own balance sheets. Bigger rivals like brother Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance Industries Ltd., the Shapoorji Pallonji Group and billionaire Subhash Chandra’s Essel Group have all announced plans to sell off parts of their groups to pare debt.

Earlier this month, Reliance Capital called off a sale of its general insurance unit to Hero Fincorp after the buyer struggled to raise funds, people familiar with the matter said at the time.

As it abandons lending, Reliance Capital will be a financial shareholder in its Reliance Commercial Finance and Reliance Home Finance businesses, while the parent will rely on its insurance business as a “long-term value creator,” Anil Ambani said Monday.

Reliance Capital shares fell as much as 14% on Monday in Mumbai, their biggest intraday drop in more than a month. The stock has fallen 89% this year, compared with an about 7% gain in the benchmark BSE Sensex index.

Reliance Capital’s home and commercial finance businesses are working with lenders on a “resolution” plan it expects to be completed by December, he said.

After the Reliance Capital meeting, Ambani is facing shareholders at annual general meetings for Reliance Infrastructure Ltd., Reliance Power Ltd., Reliance Home Finance Ltd. and Reliance Communications Ltd., the latter scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. in Mumbai.

Since 2015, Anil Ambani, heir to half of his late father’s conglomerate, has been seeking to revive his group’s creditworthiness, only to see asset sales fail and creditors close in, further restricting his options for raising cash.

As of this year, Anil Ambani has shown some progress in paring debt.

In June, Reliance Group said it repaid 350 billion rupees in the previous 14 months through asset disposals, excluding Reliance Communications.

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