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Singtel’s India sale is timely collect call

Singapore Telecommunications is making another good call. The $31 billion telecom operator is offloading a 3.3% stake in India’s Bharti Airtel for $1.6 billion, the first time in two decades. The deal will help new Chief Executive Yuen Kuan Moon’s efforts to boost shareholder returns.

Moon’s stream of divestments is paying off. He recently trimmed Singtel’s position in Airtel Africa (AAF.L) and sold its stake in its Australian tower network. After underperforming rival StarHub as well as the benchmark FTSE Straits Times index over the past five years, the company is outperforming both by at least 8 percentage points over the past year, Refinitiv data shows.

Bharti Airtel was an obvious candidate. The stock has returned some 5000% over the duration of the relationship, against Singtel’s 84%. A further limited sell-down may be in the works as the Singaporean group, which still effectively holds 29.7% after the deal, intends to equalise its stake with the Indian company’s controlling Mittal family, which currently owns about 26%.

The proceeds will help Singtel fund 5G investments, and its new growth drivers from data centres to digital banking across Southeast Asia. That, plus rising shareholder returns, dials things up nicely. Reuters

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