For Mukesh Ambani to urge into bed with Facebook, Google, and possibly even Amazon at an equivalent time takes some chutzpah.
Mukesh Ambani has joined the league of world’s richest with the assistance of an easy formula: assembling admirers for Rs 150 businesses. First he got Facebook Inc. and Google to back his fledgling digital ambitions, and now he could also be trying to entice Amazon.com Inc. into his retail venture, already India’s largest.
In four years, the Indian billionaire has amassed roughly 400 million customers for his mobile data business. What does Ambani eke out from each of them? but Rs 150 a month. The small change didn’t deter Facebook and Google’s parent, Alphabet Inc. along side marquee private equity investors and sovereign wealth funds, Silicon Valley tech titans made a beeline recently to take a position in Ambani’s Jio Platforms Ltd., valuing it at about $65 billion.
That $20 billion fund-raising spree has already met the refining and petrochemicals czar’s goal of creating his flagship Reliance Industries Ltd. net-debt-free, giving it enviable financial strength even as the coronavirus pandemic is taking a toll on most other balance sheets. The tycoon wants a repeat performance for an additional Rs 150 business in his stable: retail.
He has offered a 40% stake in Reliance Retail Ventures Ltd. to Amazon, Bloomberg News reported Thursday. It’s unclear if Jeff Bezos will bite. But others have. Menlo Park, California-based Silver Lake Partners, which bought a stake in Jio, has written a $1 billion check for 1.75%. Another Jio investor, KKR & Co., is additionally probably approaching board.
To see how the thrill is rising once more over a princely Rs 150, consider Reliance’s 30 million square feet of retail space. Each sq ft , analysts expect, will garner $2 each day by 2022. On an operating margin of seven , that translates to $1.5 billion in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization. All Ambani had to try to to was to convince Silver Lake that this Ebitda is worth 38 times today. And thereupon , he unlocked the gates to a $57 billion enterprise.
If the Facebook deal for Jio is any guide, Amazon as a strategic partner might get its 40% for alittle discount to what Silver Lake paid, though the reported $20 billion tag remains formidable. Excluding his $38 billion divorce settlement, Bezos hasn’t done a transaction as large as this. There’s another wrinkle. Amazon India, during which he has already committed billions of dollars, competes with Reliance Retail’s physical stores — also like Ambani’s version of “phy-gital” retail.
But on his own, Bezos must fight with one hand tied behind his back. Foreign-owned e-commerce sites, like his or Walmart Inc.’s Flipkart, must operate as pure marketplaces for third-party sellers. The law against owning inventory has become stricter, with discounts triggering allegations of favoring connected parties. India’s competition commission received a fresh such complaint from a gaggle of Amazon vendors recently. Being an Indian company, no such restrictions apply to Reliance’s grocery stores, supermarkets, or JioMart, Ambani’s vision of virtually connecting 30 million neighborhood shops together with his telecom customers.