Intellectual Thoughts by Sanjay Panda: Acquisition & Merger - India's overseas acquisition spree

Acquisition & Merger - India's overseas acquisition spree

Indian companies are in an expansive, acquisitive mood. For example, Tata Steel, India's largest private-sector steelmaker, that it is on he process of acquiring Corus, a much larger Anglo-Dutch rival. If the deal came off, it would be worth several billion dollars, by far the largest foreign purchase ever made by an Indian firm. In the first three quarters of this year Indian companies announced 115 foreign acquisitions, with a total value of $7.4 billion, a huge increase on previous years, and almost as much as foreign firms have invested in Indian purchases.

The shopping spree spans industries from information technology (IT) and outsourcing to liquor. Wipro, for example, one of the country's big three IT firms, has this year acquired technology companies in Portugal, Finland and California. In pharmaceuticals Ranbaxy, an Indian maker of generic drugs, bought Ethimed of Belgium and Mundogen, the Spanish generics arm of GlaxoSmithKline. Bharat Forge, the world's second-biggest maker of forgings for engine and chassis components, based in the Indian city of Pune, has since 2004 bought six companies in four countries—Britain, Germany, Sweden and China. Suzlon, another Pune firm, which makes wind turbines, this year bought Hansen, a Belgian gearbox-maker. And United Breweries, a booze conglomerate from Bangalore, has made an unsolicited bid for Whyte & Mackay, a Scottish whisky distiller.

Behind this push overseas lies a combination of forces: a domestic boom; the availability of credit; a rush to achieve global scale; and a new self-confidence about Indian business's ability to add managerial value. India's economy is in its fourth successive year of growth at around 8%. In the first two quarters of this year GDP grew at rates of 9.3% and 8.9% respectively over the same periods in 2005.

With strong balance sheets, finance is not an obstacle. The stockmarket has been booming. Rupee interest rates, although they have been edging upwards for the past two years, are still, in real terms, at about half their levels of a decade ago. And, despite capital controls that place limits on external borrowings, India's big companies can raise huge amounts of money abroad. In August Reliance Petroleum raised the largest-ever syndicated loan for India, of $1.5 billion. Tata Steel is reported to have secured financing commitments of $6.5 billion for its putative bid for Corus.

Going global

That an Indian firm should even be contemplating borrowing so much for an acquisition shows how much corporate India has matured since 1991. That was when the government began to dismantle the “licence raj” of bureaucratic controls that had hobbled Indian business.

Tata Steel is emblematic of the successful parts of Indian manufacturing. It is known as the lowest-cost producer in the world. It is one of the firms that thrived in the more competitive marketplace that emerged in India after the 1991 reforms, and have since been able to take on the best in the world. What is noteworthy about many of them is that the root of their success is not India's obvious competitive advantage: its vast, low-cost labour force. In the IT and outsourcing industries, lower salaries for college graduates are an important reason behind Indian firms' rapid growth. But in manufacturing the stars tend to be experts in automated, capital-intensive production. Bosses who have flourished in such businesses in India, with its poor infrastructure and still-daunting regulatory environment, understandably feel confident that they have lessons to teach their new purchases in other countries. to be contd....

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