Walmart close to $12bn-plus deal for Naspers-linked Flipkart - sources

Bangalore - Walmart is close to finalising a deal to buy a majority stake in India’s leading e-commerce company for at least $12bn and may complete the agreement in the next two weeks, according to people familiar with the matter.

All the major investors in Flipkart Online Services Pvt are now on board with the Walmart purchase, after an earlier debate over an Amazon.com acquisition, said the people, asking not to be named because the matter is private.

Tiger Global Management will sell nearly all its 20% stake in Flipkart, while SoftBank Group will offload a substantial part of its 20%-plus holding, the people said. Walmart will likely end up with 60% to 80% of Flipkart, valued at about $20bn, they said.

Among the issues still to be resolved are whether Flipkart’s founders will lead the business after the purchase, how much each existing investor sells and what Walmart’s final stake will be. It’s also possible that terms will change, or the talks will fall apart.

The deal, if completed, will give Walmart a substantial foothold in an emerging market of 1.3 billion people. The Bentonville, Arkansas-based company is the world’s largest retailer, but it has struggled against Amazon as consumers migrate to online commerce. India is the next big potential prize after the US and China, where foreign retailers have made little progress against Alibaba Group.

“There isn’t another country with this kind of an opportunity,” said Satish Meena, a New Delhi-based senior forecast analyst at Forrester Research. “India may not be a big deal now, but it’s the future opportunity that Walmart and Amazon are eyeing.”

Walmart declined to comment, while Flipkart didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Flipkart’s board had seriously considered Walmart and Amazon as potential partners, but ultimately decided Walmart could close a deal more easily.

Walmart likely faces fewer regulatory hurdles because it has no online retail presence in the country now, while Amazon is the second-largest e-commerce player and Flipkart’s primary rival. Flipkart founders Sachin and Binny Bansal are also said to have favoured Walmart. The US retailer has been courting the Indian company since at least last year.

Amazon has already been aggressively expanding in India on its own. Founder Jeff Bezos has committed $5.5bn to the country and his local chief, Amit Agarwal, has made progress by adapting the site to local conditions.

After losing China, Jeff Bezos really wants to win in India

Amazon has been gaining ground quickly on Flipkart and it tried to derail the Walmart transaction at least in part because it will fortify the Indian rival. Walmart can aid Flipkart with deep pockets and decades of retailing expertise in skills from logistics to marketing.

"What Flipkart took a decade to do, Amazon has achieved in half that time,” said Meena. “Now Amazon will get ready for the battle ahead, and pump more into investments, particularly in food retailing and fashion.”

The $20bn price tag would be substantially higher than Flipkart’s valuation of about $12bn last year. It is already the most valuable start-up in India.

SoftBank stands to make a tidy profit on a deal it cut last year. The Japanese company invested $2.5bn at the earlier valuation, people familiar said at the time. That stake could be worth more than $4bn at the Walmart deal’s valuation.

SoftBank and Tiger Global are currently the start-up’s largest shareholders, followed by Naspers [JSE:NPN]. If the deal goes through, it would be the biggest in the nascent history of Indian e-commerce. 

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