“Until recently, the focus of private equity interest in Asia was overwhelmingly tilted towards China given the scale of the opportunity and relative ease of exits,” said Anuj Kapoor, managing director and head of investment banking at UBS India.
“India is considered to be the best investment destination in Asia. In the last couple of years, Blackstone has made successful exits with 2-4 times return on Indian investments,” a source told Mint.
Blackstone started investing in India in 2005 with Akhil Gupta as its managing director. Gupta quit in 2013 after eight years and senior managing directors Mathew Cyriac and Amit Dixit were elevated as co-heads in India. Last February, Cyriac quit to start his own fund.
In March this year, Blackstone Group told Bloomberg that it has found the formula for making money in India, which has become its top-performing market globally after the PE firm began focusing on bigger buyout deals.
Over the past few years, Blackstone has started concentrating on select sectors like consumer and information technology where it expects India to see the most wealth creation, Senior Managing Director Amit Dixit told Bloomberg. That shift, along with a preference for larger investment sizes, helped it generate returns as high as six times on recent exits in the country, Bloomberg reported, quoting a person with knowledge of the matter said.
Blackstone recorded an annualised internal rate of return of about 30 per cent on its India private equity investments since 2011, the highest among its markets worldwide, according to the person. It booked about 25 per cent returns in China during the period, the person said, asking not to be identified because the information is private. India-focused funds of all vintages have seen median returns of 12.4 per cent, according to Preqin.
“Limited partners always used to complain that it’s easy to invest in India and hard to get the money out,” Dixit told Bloomberg in an interview in March this year. “That has changed now – since 2014, there has been a good exit environment.” Dixit had declined to comment on the fund’s returns.
When private equity firms entered India, Indian promoters were willing to sell only minority stakes. Since 2011, Blackstone has acquired majority stakes in Indian companies in certain areas where it has “deep knowledge” like finance, health care and industrials, Dixit told Bloomberg. This has worked for it.
Blackstone earned a six-fold return on its investment in SH Kelkar & Co, which creates fragrances and flavours for customers including Unilever’s local arm, a person told Bloomberg. The buyout firm sold part of its holding in SH Kelkar’s 2015 initial public offering and offloaded more stock last year.
“The key to the recent success of the Blackstone team in India has been their ability to do control transactions in India, and have the confidence and ability to manage these companies,” Sanjay Agarwal, executive chairman of corporate finance at Deutsche Bank in India, told Bloomberg.
India has not been a cakewalk. Its 2007 takeover of garment maker Gokaldas Exports got hit when much of the garment industry’s manufacturing base moved to Bangladesh and Vietnam. Blackstone eventually sold out at a 79 per cent loss, to a firm backed by former MD Mathew Cyriac. It also invested in Monnet Ispat & Energy, a steelmaker that has now become insolvent.
“We were new to India, and we were learning,” Dixit told Bloomberg. “The private equity sector was finding its feet in the country.” Blackstone’s private equity funds have now invested a total of $3.5bn in India. The firm is planning to add another $2 billion of such investments in the country over the next five years, Dixit added.