* Reliance becomes net-debt free ahead of year-end target
* Raises 1.69 trln rupees via stake sales in digital unit, share sale (Recasts to add Reliance chairman comment, detail)
NEW DELHI, June 19 (Reuters) – India’s Reliance Industries Ltd said on Friday it has become net-debt free after raising 1.69 trillion rupees ($22.2 billion) via stake sales in its digital unit and a share sale over the past two months.
The oil-to-telecoms conglomerate had previously set a target to clear its net debt of just over $21 billion by year-end.
The Mumbai-based company kicked off stake sales in Jio Platforms in late April with Facebook Inc buying a 9.99% stake for $5.7 billion. It has since sold 24.7% of Jio Platforms to global investors including General Atlantic, KKR, Saudi sovereign wealth fund and Abu Dhabi state fund, raising a total of $15.22 billion.
Reliance also sold shares to existing shareholders worth $7 billion.
Strong investor interest in Reliance’s consumer businesses, Jio Platforms and Reliance Retail, will help the two units move toward a public listing in the next five years, company chairman and billionaire tycoon Mukesh Ambani said in a statement.
Reliance’s retail unit runs close to 12,000 stores, including cash-and-carry wholesale, in over 6,700 Indian cities. Last month, it launched an online grocery service, JioMart, in a move aimed at rivalling Amazon’s local unit and Walmart’s Flipkart.
It plans to wrap up a bulk of the private fundraising for Jio Platforms – the unit which houses telecoms venture Jio Infocomm – by the third quarter of 2020 and then explore a potential public listing for it in the United States in 2021, Reuters reported previously.
Reliance’s Jio Infocomm is India’s biggest telecom carrier by subscribers with more than 376 million users.
Unlike traditional carriers, Jio launched in late 2016 with free voice and cut-price data plans. It has also ventured into music and movie streaming apps. The company has driven consolidation in India’s crowded telecoms sector, forcing several rivals out of business.
($1 = 76.2880 Indian rupees) (Reporting by Sankalp Phartiyal and Philip George; Editing by Rashmi Aich and Jacqueline Wong)