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Small investors shun India's Bharti Infratel IPO

Indians check their phones in Mumbai on Septmeber 4, 2012. Small investors largely shunned an IPO by the tower arm of Indian telecom firm Bharti, aimed at raising $845 million.

Small investors largely shunned an IPO by the tower arm of Indian telecom firm Bharti, aimed at raising $845 million, but the issue was fully subscribed thanks to institutional buyers, data showed Saturday.

The initial public offer (IPO) marked Bharti Airtel's return to the capital market after a decade-long break, and was the biggest public issue since state-run Coal India raised $3.4 billion in an IPO in late 2010.

The tower arm, Bharti Infratel, planned to sell 66.1 million shares, or more than 40 percent of its offering, to small investors and offered them a discount.

Individual small investors took just under 20 percent of their allocation but demand from institutional buyers ensured that total bids exceeded the shares on offer by 1.3 times, according to stock exchange figures.

Since the Coal India offer -- which had bids for more than 15 times the number of shares on offer -- India's IPO market had virtually dried up as the economy slowed, with over 50 firms pulling their offers since early 2011.

But in recent months, India's benchmark 30-share Sensex stock index has surged, led by optimism over a blitz of government reforms and overseas fund in-flows.

Bharti Infratel has over 34,000 transmission towers across 18 states covering 11 telecom circles, and also holds a 42 percent stake in Indus Towers -- the world's biggest tower firm -- which has around 110,000.

Analysts said problems dogging the troubled telecom sector in which profits are under pressure and regulation has been erratic were responsible for the weak individual investor demand along with competition from other smaller issues.

Bharti group chief executive Sunil Bharti Mittal told reporters he was happy with the outcome and said he believed the "the doors have opened" for other IPOs with the Bharti offer.

Bharti Infratel was expected to keep a little over 75 percent of the issue proceeds while a quarter would go to private equity firms including Temasek, The Investment Corp of Dubai and Goldman Sachs, according to issue documents.

After the IPO, Bharti Airtel's stake in Bharti Infratel would fall to 79 percent from a current 86 percent, while private equity firms will own 10.58 percent, down from 14 percent earlier.

Telecom transmission tower companies earn their money by leasing space to mobile phone firms. Bharti Infratel is expected to use the proceeds to expand its number of towers and upgrade existing ones.