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Reliance Comm In Loan Talks With China Bank

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Reliance Communications, which has a Rs 4,782.25 crore convertible bond maturing in March and has failed so far in efforts to sell its tower unit, is in talks with China Development Bank for a loan to redeem the bond, a person with direct knowledge of the matter said.

The company, controlled by billionaire Anil Ambani, has been trying for more than a year to sell its tower business in a deal that could be worth more than Rs 15,510 crore.

Separately, two sources with direct knowledge of the matter said a deal for the towers, which would allow the company to pay down a big chunk of the Rs 33,605 crore in net debt on its books as of the end of September, was not close to completion.

The company has been in talks with U.S. buyout giants Carlyle Group and Blackstone Group on a deal for the towers business, sources have told Reuters.

Reliance Communications is looking to secure a leasing agreement for its towers from Reliance Industries, controlled by Anil Ambani's once-estranged brother Mukesh, before pressing forward with a tower sale, the two sources said.

In a statement to Reuters, a Reliance Communications spokesperson said: "RCOM will ensure timely redemption of FCCBs (foreign currency convertible bonds) due in March 2012," but declined further comment.

The company did not immediately respond to a query on the status of the tower sales process.

Reliance Industries, an energy-focused conglomerate that is India's most valuable company, plans to launch nationwide broadband services using fourth-generation (4G) wireless technology.

Reliance Communications is in talks with state-owned China Development Bank for a syndicated loan of Rs 4,782.25 crore, the same size as the convertible bond, the first source said.

The bank is likely to approach other Chinese lenders about syndicating the loan, the source said.

Terms are still to be worked out, and a loan is not likely to be launched until February, after China's Lunar New Year holiday later this month, this person said.

Reliance Communications, which has borrowed from the Chinese lender in the past, has also discussed with China Development Bank the possibility of borrowing Chinese currency in India, the person said.

Last March, China Development Bank arranged loans worth Rs 9,978.10 crore, based on exchange rates at the time, for Reliance Communications.

That funding was used to finance spectrum it had acquired during a costly 3G auction, as well as for the purchase of equipment made by China's Huawei Technologies Co Ltd and ZTE Corp, Reliance Communications said at the time.

The Indian cellular firm, battered by fierce competition and thwarted in several attempts to strike deals to ease its debt, has seen its shares get hammered over the past few years.

The stock was trading at 82.55 rupees on Wednesday, far below the 654 rupee conversion price on the convertible bonds, which were issued in February 2007 when Indian markets were booming.

More than two dozen Indian companies in the BSE-500 index face redemptions on foreign currency convertible bonds worth a combined Rs 33000 crore by the end of March 2013, according to research by Indian brokerage Edelweiss.

A global dollar funding crunch as western banks conserve capital and the rupee's 16 per cent fall in 2011 make for a challenging refinancing environment for Indian companies.

High domestic interest rates after 13 policy rate increases since March 2010 make local finance less attractive.

(Reuters)