Two startups raised more than $1.5 billion this week. Online food delivery firm Swiggy raised $1 billion in its Series H round of funding, while Byju’s, the creator of a popular K-12 learning app, raised $540 million in its latest round of investment. Both investments were led by Naspers, a global Internet and entertainment group. The two startups were valued over $3 billion each.
While these deal tickets and valuations may be stunning, in some ways, they also highlight the investment momentum that’s currently underway in India—which has made 2018 a blockbuster year for strategic, private equity (PE) and merger and acquisition (M&A) deals in the country. The record-breaking year saw total deals value worth over $100 billion, for the first time ever, on the back of consolidation across sectors, a significant surge in big-ticket transactions, and an increased attention to the stressed asset space, among others.
Deal value as of December 3 reached a record high of nearly $105 billion across 1,640 transactions, according to an estimate by major global auditor, PwC, in its latest report—Deals in India: Annual review and outlook for 2019. While PE activity had a lukewarm start this year; investor pooled in $34 billion invested across the year, a few million dollars more than last year. M&A and strategic deals crossed $71 billion, breaking all previous records.
"If you break down the deals that are happening today, there are two things noticeable. First, we have companies that are raising large funding rounds. These companies have come through the funnel, in terms of market traction and scale; and are on their way to be the industry leaders. On the second level, we have reasonably funded companies, which are maturing now (clear industry leaders) but still need to do the right things to sustain themselves. Both financial and strategic investors are getting interested in them. Flipkart is a good example (Flipkart was acquired by Walmart for $16 billion in May),” Sanjeev Krishan, private equity and deals leader, Pwc India, told Fortune India over a call.
While interest from global PE funds is not new, the year witnessed a new wave of interest from strategic buyers who placed significant bets on India’s growth story. Walmart and Schneider Electric (which acquired Larsen & Toubro’s electric and automation business for Rs 14,000 crore) were among the key global contributors to the M&A deal value this year. PwC believes that this could trigger further interest from overseas companies and investors, going forward.
Consolidation has been a key driver for deal activity, accounting for around 50% of the M&A transaction value in 2018, with e-commerce at the forefront. With consumerism sweeping through India, investors and corporates have taken note of this trend and are keen to tap into its potential.
“India has entered a phase where corporate players are looking to improve their size, scalability, and operating models through consolidation. This is not only limited to strategic players but could also become a trend among PE players looking for dominance in select sectors by merging their portfolio companies, and/or leading sectoral consolidation through platforms,” the PwC report noted.
Inbound activity this year accounted for over 30% of the M&A deal value—over six times the deal value in 2017.
So far, 2018 has seen 22 deals worth over $1 billion each (across both PE investments and strategic deals), more than double the number last year. In what can be seen as their growing confidence, overseas buyers have placed sizeable bets across sectors, including technology, industrial products, telecom, oil and gas, and energy.
PE investors and sovereign wealth funds (SWFs) have made bold investments in technology, infrastructure, telecom, and financial services. Several global pension funds and SWFs have been expanding their footprint in India over the past few years. SWFs have been a part of over 18% (in terms of value) of the PE investments made in the country between 2014 and 2018. SWFs from across the globe, particularly Canada, Singapore and Abu Dhabi, were a part of some of the largest PE transactions this year, contributing around $6.5 billion to the PE deal value. This is more than double the value five years ago.
“Strategic investors and sovereign/pension funds together with East Asian investors have been more prolific in the Indian markets, owing to focus on the stressed assets and the consolidation in the tech-enabled businesses—the late growth and growth investors have been a bit muted over the past year or so, but with the IPO market slowing I expect traditional PE deal momentum to pick up in the next 12 months,” says Krishan.
During the year, a lot more PE investors were seen adopting more focussed approach when it came to deployment of capital. A lot more PE funds are doing platform deals to channelise their expertise into specific sectors or focus areas. According to the PwC report, a number of PE funds and SWFs have already entered into agreements with domestic players to cater to segments such as infrastructure, real estate, renewables, healthcare, and stressed assets. The year 2018 also saw 213 exits (worth nearly $25 billion) by PE firms, which is an all-time high. While strategic sales accounted for the majority of the pie, secondary sales (PE investor to PE investor) as a mode of exit are gaining importance within the PE community. There was a 38% spike in value of such deals this year, from 2017.
The technology space has attracted investments worth over $30 billion in 2018 (both PE and M&A together), a clear advancement over previous years. The retail sector, in particular, was at the frontline of the technology convergence trend. Apart from technology, real estate, financial services, energy, and manufacturing were among the top five sectors drawing significant attention in 2018. Real estate witnessed a number of investments in the office space segment and affordable housing, according to PwC. In the financial services sector, non-banking financial companies (NBFCs) continued to see maximum interest.
According to experts, 2019 is expected to see a continuation of the deal momentum of 2018. However, there are a few challenges, says the PwC report. Continuation of global trade wars; worsening of India’s (and its states') fiscal condition owing to an increase in crude oil prices; populist measures; and the uncertainty about who will come to power in the upcoming general election could make investors cautious.