In the India-China international acquisitions game, China has been hogging all the limelight. Just in past year or so, Lenovo acquired IBM, while Haier and CNOOC were rebuffed in their attempts to buy Maytag and UNOCAL respectively. In all of this noise, what is being missed is that India is making quite a large number of acquisitions as well, albeit smaller-sized ones. Perhaps it is the smallness of the size of acquisitions that keep it under the radar and therefore keep the political economy issues at bay. Here is a comprehensive Businessweek story on India’s shopping spree this year.
Indian companies, which had a very small presence in foreign locales just a few years ago, have inked 62 overseas deals worth $1.38 billion so far this year, buying up a variety of foreign outfits, from engineering design house INCAT International in Britain to Valeant Pharma in the U.S. That compares with just $202 million in deals in 2002.
Surprisingly, the biggest plays have not come from India’s vibrant tech and outsourcing sector, which, analysts say, has a sound domestic business model and doesn’t see the need to travel boldly abroad. The big moves are coming from more traditional industries: telecommunications, pharmaceuticals, auto parts, and other manufacturing businesses that want to secure export markets. Indeed, the biggest deal so far this year is an odd one: Bombay-based TV maker Videocon International Ltd. bought the global color-picture-tube business of France’s Thomson (TMS ) for $289.8 million. Yes, picture tubes are decidedly old technology, but Videocon, one of the largest manufacturers of picture-tube glass, plans to supply its product to the Thomson operations and integrate the businesses.
Ten years ago, India’s overseas gold rush would have been impossible. The government in New Delhi imposed severe restrictions on the export of the country’s foreign exchange — in part because there wasn’t much of it. Today, India’s booming tech, auto, and pharma businesses have attracted a flood of foreign investment. The country holds reserves in excess of $140 billion, and curbs on foreign investment by Indian companies are largely gone. Moreover, Corporate India over the last decade has aggressively restructured itself, making management more professional, and increasing efficiencies. In a long list of sectors, including telecom, auto and auto-parts manufacturing, pharma, and commodities like steel and aluminum, Indian companies are globally competitive. At the same time, they still lack the expertise they need in overseas marketing and distribution. To fill the gap they’re pursuing deals in the U.S., Europe, and Asia. Given some of India’s built-in advantages — such as its enormous output of skilled engineers — its global reach can only grow.