India's Bharti quarterly profit dives, misses estimate

Bharti Airtel, India's top mobile phone company, said Friday that quarterly profit has slid more than 70 percent due to "challenging" conditions in a competitive market, falling far short of market estimates.

The drop in the three months to December marked the telecom company's 12th straight quarterly fall and was far below the consensus market expectations of an eight-billion-rupee profit rise.

Bharti, the world's fourth-largest mobile subscriber by customers, said net profit tumbled 72 percent to 2.84 billion rupees ($53 million) in the financial quarter to December from 10.1 billion rupees in the same period a year earlier.

"Market conditions have been challenging in recent quarters due to pricing pressures and rising input costs, which have put enormous pressure on the sector and consequently margins," said Bharti chairman and founder Sunil Bharti Mittal.

But he added that the worst "seems to be getting over" with tariff rates improving and said that on "the data front, it is heartening to see strong growth quarter-on-quarter and across geographies".

Revenues in the third financial quarter grew by 9.5 percent to 202.39 billion rupees from the corresponding year-earlier period, led by strong growth in mobile internet services.

Mittal's upbeat outlook failed to cheer investors who drove down Bharti's stock by 3.27 percent to 328.30 on the Bombay Stock Exchange in mid-morning trade.

Also weighing on Bharti's earnings were interest costs from debt acquired in purchasing faster 3G spectrum and the African mobile operations of Kuwait's Zain in 2010.

Bharti, which is one-third held by Singapore's SingTel, operates in 20 countries across Asia and Africa and has some 262 million customers globally.

The company, like other telecom firms in the Indian market, has already raised some charges as they seek to shore up their balance sheets.