Chinese fintech powerhouse Ant Group is considering to sell its 30% equity stake in Paytm’s holding company One97 Communications Ltd, Reuters reported. While the a formal sale process has not been initiated, the trigger for the prospective stake sale, the report says, is the worsening relations between India and China in the past few months.
Senior managers at Ant, who were reviewing various investments, believe that it would not be possible for the group to raise its stake in Paytm, so either a complete divestment or a partial stake sale in the company was discussed, the report said citing unnamed sources.
Both Ant Group and Paytm have denied that a stake sale is underway. In a tweet, the Ant Group said, “The Reuters story is untrue. We are disappointed that Reuters decided to run the story based on false information.” Whereas a spokesperson for Paytm said that the information is absolutely false and misleading. “There has been no discussion with any of our major shareholders ever, nor any plans, about selling their stake or becoming the controlling shareholder,” they said.
Last year, Paytm raised fresh funds from SoftBank’s Vision Fund, Alibaba’s Ant Financial, Discovery Capital, and new investors including T. Rowe Price Associates, pegging its valuation at $16 billion. Ant Financial had planned to invest around $575 million into One97 back in February 2015 for a 25% stake. But it only provided $200 million in the first tranche with the remaining $375 million subsequently picked up by the Alibaba Group through a $680 million investment in the domestic payments company. At the time, both Ant and Alibaba had a 20% stake, each in Paytm. At a $16 billion valuation, Ant’s stake in One97 is worth around $4.8 billion, Reuters said.
While the Ant Group’s public listing was called-off last month, in its prospectus the company touched up how geo-politics is disrupting its growth strategy. “As we continue to expand into markets outside of China, we increasingly face competition from domestic and international players operating in these markets, as well as geopolitical tensions, regulatory challenges and protectionist policies that may support domestic players in those markets,” it said.
In fact, a change in India’s foreign direct investment policy, which requires entities based on China to seek government approval for acquisitions and investments led to the group pushing aside an additional investment in Zomato, the restaurant aggregator and food delivery platform.
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