Telcos Receive Two Year Payment Moratorium on Spectrum Dues As First Sign of Relief from the Government

The telecom operators have been caught in a financially stifling situation since a long time, and a big blow had come in the form of the new AGR decision from the Supreme Court which had put an additional burden of Rs 1.3 lakh crore on the telecom operators. Now there are two avenues which the telecom operators are looking forward to, for financial relief. The first way seems to be through raising the tariffs in the industry which all the telecom operators have already acted on. Besides this, another relief might come from the government, wherein, the government has said that it will provide a payment moratorium of two years for the spectrum fees. This means that the subscribers will not have to pay the spectrum fees for FY21 and FY22, and the pending payment will be distributed over the rest of the lifetime of the spectrum, in such a way that it will be NPV-neutral for the government.

Payment Moratorium Relief for Telcos

The analysts have also shared their views on this new development. As per a new ET Telecom report, the new move by the government to provide a two-year payment moratorium will bring some cash flow relief to the telecom operators. Jefferies has said in its note, “We expect the government to put a moratorium on AGR dues for the next two years, aiding cash flows. A reduction in license fee (helps Bharti/Voda Idea’s EBITDA by 5%/28%) and an extension of IUC are also likely.” This relief has been brought forth by the cabinet of ministers who have approved the payment moratorium for the telecom operators. Goldman Sachs has also made some comments on this new move saying that although it will ease the cash flow problems of the telcos, especially for Vodafone Idea

, it won’t better the balance sheet leverage of the telecom operators which seems to be 20x net debt to EBITDA as of September 2019. The main relief for Vodafone Idea from this payment moratorium would be related to AGR dues.

More Help Expected from the Government

“The moratorium amount of $3.3billion for Vodafone Idea and $2 billion for Bharti Airtel could be quite meaningful from a near-term liquidity standpoint for these telcos,” Goldman Sachs said. It also said that the two-year moratorium would allow both these telcos to potentially save $2 billion and $3.3 billion, respectively, which is 41% and 52% of their respective AGR-related liability. The thing to note here is that while the payment moratorium will ease things for Vodafone Idea cash flow wise, it won’t have an effect on the balance sheet leverage. There has also been expectation of an interest rate reduction, but that has not been incorporated yet.

Tariff Hike Not Enough

Starting December, telecom operators, including Reliance Jio, and BSNL have also announced that they would be increasing tariffs. This increase in tariffs could be a turning point in the industry as it tries to get back up from the pit of losses. As per Jefferies, more relief from the government can be expected in the coming days, as they will definitely need support around the issue of AGR dues even with the recent price hike. In the next few months, the pricing of the sector is expected to improve by 25 to 30% which will be a turnaround for the industry which has been in Rs 7 lakh crore in debt for a long time now, and is now also under dues of Rs 1.3 lakh crore.

Arpit Sharma

Arpit spends his day closely following the telecom and tech industry. A music connoisseur and a night owl, he also takes a deep interest in the Indian technology start-up scene and spends rest of his time spilling poetry and stories on paper.

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Arpit Sharma