MTN in talks with two investors(at least)

Despite strenuous denials from Indian and European mobile operators of any involvement, the South African cell phone company, MTN, has confirmed that it has engaged in 'exploratory discussions' with two parties. Such is the size of the deal--thought to value MTN at around US$37 billion, speculation that it might happen soon has positively impacted the value of the Rand over the past week.

The company that is most mentioned as leading the bidding, Bharti Airtel, is understood to be wanting to acquire a majority stake in MTN, although those close to the deal say discussions centre on how the financing might be structured. However, shares in Bharti have fallen sharply on concerns that the Indian company risks over stretching itself, given that MTN's 68 million subscribers exceed that of Bharti. Analysts have suggested that Singapore Telecoms, which holds a 30.5 per cent stake in Bharti, may join the deal to lend the Indian group some financial clout. While Bharti pushes ahead, most believe other bidders will emerge, most notably Reliance Communications, Vodafone or China Mobile.

For more on this story:
- read The Times and Financial Times

Related story:
Rumour Mill: Vodafone denies MTN talks. Vodafone story