NEW DELHI, May 2: India Inc’s biggies are investing mega bucks in Africa with a new aggression in the hope of reaping rich profits. Last week, Bharti Airtel chairman Sunil Mittal rejigged his Africa plan with the acquisition of Warid Telecom’s Uganda unit.
Indian billionaires are investing $15 billion a year in Africa to tap the "next demand" from the world’s second largest continent with 54 countries and more than a billion people.
The Tatas, Vedanta chief Anil Agarwal, Adi Godrej and Naveen Jindal have lined up greenfield investments in Africa, which is witnessing an increase in economic diversity with a young population.
India’s annual foreign direct investment (FDI) in Africa touched $15 billion as some of its largest conglomerates splashed less on overseas mergers and acquisitions (M&As), and turned to the continent with 6-7% growth despite regional inconsistencies.
This year, Tata unveiled a $1.7-billion greenfield investment to boost automobile and hospitality businesses in Africa. Vedanta will invest $2 billion in mining and other resources after regulatory and environmental challenges delayed expansion in India. Domestic FMCG major Godrej Consumer Products already has a INR 10-billion revenue from Africa, and sees it growing "at least in mid-teens". Jindal Steel & Power wants to build large power plants, while scouting for resources.
"The larger Indian corporates have been de-risking themselves from their uncertain home environment for some time. Africa has been a particular focus, in view of its faster economic growth and the presence of large communities of Indians. The region is, as a result, regarded as part of India’s ‘near abroad’ by corporate India," Barclays India Investment Banking MD Frank Hancock told The Times of India.
Barclays is developing an India-Africa corridor, pooling key resources from both geographies together to help large Indian clients, he added.
A United Nations report projected that FDI will touch $100 billion in 2014 in Africa, where India trails France, United States, United Kingdom, China, Malaysia and Korea.
Airtel can look at more in-market acquisitions in Africa, while it looks to stabilize the $10.7-billion buyout of Zain’s continental unit three years ago. Drug maker Cipla is paying $512 million to take charge of a joint venture with South Africa’s Medpro.
Still, most FDI in Africa is greenfield as the vast continent boasts of very few large acquisition targets. Emerging market investors have outpaced their counterparts from the developed economies in Africa, where a battle is brewing between China’s state-owned behemoths and Indian billionaires.
China’s FDI in Africa was estimated at $20 billion in 2012, but many academics think the figure is significantly higher due to under-reporting.
"Business will go where the next demand is coming, and Africa is a big opportunity," says BMR Advisors chairman Mukesh Butani. Political impasse back home would have prompted some Indian companies to move growth investments overseas. "There are significant opportunities in consumer sectors like automobiles and FMCG, though India may have lost the initiative to China in African natural resources," Butani adds.
Buoyant commodity prices and peace in strife-ridden regions like Congo and Somalia have stabilized economic activity and triggered consumer spending, which make Indian FMCG companies like Emami and Godrej excited about the Africa potential.
"Currently, 20% of our international business comes from Africa and we aim to notch this up to 35-40%,"says Emami CEO (international marketing division) Shyam Sutaria.
Godrej Consumer adds that Africa is a market being primed for "tremendous dividends in the coming decade."
Source: The Island