Indian companies turn predators abroad

New Delhi, October 8 :

India’s giant Tata group is leading the way as cash-flush companies go on an overseas buying spree, racing to acquire a global footprint. Earlier this year, the hotels-to-steel conglomerate bought a 30 percent sta-ke in Energy Brands Inc, which makes flavoured waters for $677 million, India’s biggest cross-border acquisition so far.

Now India’s largest private sector group with $22 billion in annual sales is eyeing a far bigger prize. Last Thursday it said it was considering a bid for top British steelmaker Corus group that analysts have valued at up to $10.4 billion. The combined group would be among the top ten global steel industry players in output terms. Indian “companies now have the financial muscle and operational skills to make these sorts of acquisitions,” said Anjan Roy, economic advisor to the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry. “They are going out and grabbing companies.”

India’s outbound investment could even top inbound foreign direct investment (FDI), according to figures from British data provider Dealogic. Outbound investments from India this calendar year total $7.2 billion, up from $4.5 billion in all of last year, said Dealogic.

That is triple the amount from the year before, said Dealogic, which counted 112 foreign acquisitions in 2005 which would work out to about three a week. If the Tata acquisition of Corus happens, India could see outbound investments exceed the $12 billion worth of FDI forecast by Commerce Minister Kamal Nath for 2006.

Indian corporate acquisitions started out small, hamstrung by restrictions. But with a swelling of foreign exchange reserves in recent years, the government has relaxed rules governing overseas investment. In 1992, firms could only make foreign investments of two million dollars. By 1999, the figure had moved up to $100 million.