India’s smaller companies go on a buying spree
High-ticket foreign purchases by Tata Steel and Hindalco have grabbed the headlines but India’s SMEs are also increasingly acquisitive. Cash-rich, or funded by enthusiastic local banks or foreign investors, they are taking advantage of turmoil in the US. Elliot Wilson reports.
SAPAT TEA IS a classic Indian growth story in the making. Privately run and awash with cash after a decade of strong domestic growth, the country’s third-largest tea maker and blender is on the hunt for foreign acquisitions. Armed with a war chest of more than $60 million, Mumbai-based Sapat wants to buy at least two high-end tea brands over the next 12 months – one in the US (its budget: $20 million) and one in the UK (budget: $40 million). Its management will finance the deals around 50% with cash, with the rest funded by a mixture of leveraged buyouts and, says Sapat’s managing director, Nikhil Joshi, "a sprinkling of private equity". Sapat isn’t particularly large: Joshi declines to reveal the privately run, unlisted company’s finances, although he says that by 2010 he wants Sapat’s annual revenues to more than quadruple, to between $150 million and $200 million. But he personifies both the burning confidence of India’s family-run small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – the local version of Germany’s Mittelstand – and their desire to grow rapidly and beyond their own borders. This is despite – and sometimes because of – the global credit crunch and fears of a US recession.