Indian companies on acquisition hunt

New Delhi, February 5:

After decades of being stifled by strict foreign exchange controls, corporate India has gone on a shopping spree — snapping up companies everywhere from Britain to Korea.

Still, the country has no home-based takeover tycoons to rival Kolkata-born ‘king of steel’ Lakshmi Mittal, whose Rotterdam-headquartered company Mittal Steel has mounted a $22.7 billion bid for rival Arcelor. But with India’s economy growing at a cra-cking eight per cent, the nation’s cash-flush firms are becoming global players, purchasing companies in all sectors from software to pharmaceuticals, information technology and energy.

While many of the acquisitions are small, that’s seen as changing in coming years as Indian companies head increasingly abroad. “We’re really at an exciting time for Indian business,” said Alan Rosling, executive director of Tata Sons, holding firm of tea-to-telecoms Tata group, India’s second largest conglomerate, “It’s not just Indian government liberalising the economy — it’s the world globalising.”

Firms in Indian hands include well-known British tea brands Tetley Tea and Typhoo Tea, the trucking unit of South Korea’s Daewoo Group and Bermuda-based bandwidth provider Flag Telecom whose underseas cables link the world.

Last year, the value of India’s 118 purchases of foreign firms totalled $2.91 billion, said Marti Subrahma-nyam, finance professor at Stern School of Business at New York University. That’s around seven times the tally in 2001. While the amo-unt is puny by world standards, analysts say India’s takeover hunger will rise as firms aim to attain critical mass to compete globally and to leverage their low-cost production base.

“There’s a need for corporates in the developing world to restructure to deal with the compulsions of globalisation,” Mustafa Hamdy, Vienna University of Technology management professor, said. India’s biggest deals in 2005 included the $313 million purchase by Matrix Laboratories of Belgium’s DocPharma, TV maker Vid-eocon’s acquisition of the colour picture-tube busin-ess of France’s Thomson for 292 million and Tata Chemical’s $112 million takeover of British soda ash manufacturer Brunner Mond. Its products are used to make glass and detergents.

India’s burgeoning business process outsourcing sector, in particular, is extr-emely keen on foreign purchases, eager to acquire ni-che skills swiftly in such areas as retail, insurance or health care. “We need acqu-isitions to acquire relevant scale, capability and to plug gaps in service operatings,” said Alok Mitra, chief financial officer of Mphasis BFL, one of the busiest BPO ove-rseas buyers. This foreign expansion flurry was impossible until recently. Indian firms were slow to hit the global acquisition trail.