NEW DELHI: When Walmart Inc paid $16 billion for control of India’s e-commerce pioneer Flipkart Online Services Pvt last year, the American retail giant got a little-noticed digital payments subsidiary as part of the deal. Now the business is emerging as one of the country’s top startups, a surprise benefit for Walmart from its largest-ever acquisition.
Flipkart’s board recently authorised the PhonePe Pvt Ltd unit to become a new entity and explore raising $1 billion from outside investors at a valuation of as much as $10 billion, according to people familiar with the matter, asking not to be named because the discussions are private. The funding may close in the next couple of months, although the talks are not finalized and terms could still change, they said. The unit would then become independent with a distinct investor base, although Walmart-owned Flipkart would remain a shareholder. Walmart and Flipkart didn’t respond to emails seeking comment.
PhonePe — which means “on the phone” in Hindi and is pronounced “phone pay” — has grown into one of India’s leading digital payments companies. Its volume and value of transactions have roughly quadrupled over the past year as the country’s consumers adopt the technology to transfer money digitally to businesses and each other. PhonePe is gaining ground on Paytm, which leads the field and is backed by Warren Buffett.
PhonePe is an “underappreciated asset,” Edward Yruma, an analyst from KeyBanc Capital Markets, wrote in a recent research note. He estimated the business may be worth $14 billion to $15 billion, separate from Flipkart’s e-commerce operation.
The startup was founded in December 2015 by three friends who left Flipkart to get it off the ground. Within a year, Flipkart founders Binny Bansal and Sachin Bansal decided to acquire PhonePe, realizing that solving payments friction would make it easier for consumers to buy online. Less than a year later, the Indian government made the unprecedented move to ban large banknotes to curb corruption and boost digital transactions. With this “demonetization,” Paytm, PhonePe and other fledgling services flourished.
Cheap smartphones and cut-rate wireless data plans have brought millions of Indians online in the years since, boosting the whole industry. In June, the PhonePe app reached 290 million transactions with an aggregate value of $85 billion, compared with 71 million transactions at $22 billion a year earlier, according to the company.
The service gained momentum by offering an array of services, including mutual funds, movie tickets and airline bookings.
“Globally, hardly any privately held fintech company has reached PhonePe’s scale on both sides of the network so rapidly,” Sameer Nigam, PhonePe’s co-founder and chief executive officer, said in a statement, pointing to its 150 million plus customers and more than 5 million merchants. “That’s why the strong investor interest.”
Walmart debated for months whether to keep funding the payments business internally or whether to separate the operation so it could raise outside funds. After plowing nearly $300 million into PhonePe, the US retailer opted for the latter course. Alibaba Group Holding Ltd made a similar decision when it split off its Alipay business, helping growth by allowing it to work with a broader range of merchants.
Walmart is still grappling with whether to bring in strategic or financial investors, according to one of the people familiar. While a strategic investor would likely be better for growth, senior Walmart executives are concerned that such backers typically want more voting rights, the person said. Walmart wants to use the lessons from PhonePe in other operations around the globe.
Govt should ease law on firing workers, reform labour laws: Panagariya
Mumbai: India should ease norms for hiring and firing workers to make it easier for companies to do business in the country, according to a former adviser to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.
Easing the rules are crucial for employers, as their primary aim is not to fire workers, Arvind Panagariya, the head of government think-tank NITI Aayog, said in an interview in New Delhi. “You need consistency across labour laws.”
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, in her maiden budget this month, proposed combining multiple laws governing workers to form four sets of labor codes to improve the ease of doing business. But what’s needed is the reform of labor laws and not just streamlining of existing ones, said Panagariya.
He said the government’s plan to introduce a single minimum wage across the country may hurt businesses in smaller towns considering the wide differences in costs across urban and rural India. It could especially hurt small exporters and erode their competitiveness globally.
Modi’s government, which was re-elected for a second straight five year term in May, can do more to help grow the economy, Panagariya said, adding that some of India’s labor laws are probably more than 100 years old. Almost all of them are more than 30 years old.
Ban cryptocurrencies, consider launching own digital money: Panel to govt
New Delhi: A panel tasked with examining virtual currencies has recommended that the government should ban private cryptocurrencies and could consider launching its own digital money. It has also recommended that to deter the use of private cryptocurrencies, anyone doing so could be punished with imprisonment of up to 10 years.
The committee on virtual currency is headed by Finance Secretary Subhash Garg. The other members are Ajay Prakash Sawhney, secretary, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology; Ajay Tyagi, chairman, Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi); and B P Kanungo, deputy governor, Reserve Bank of India (RBI).
The committee submitted its report — after a delay of a year. A piece of draft legislation, Banning of Cryptocurrency and Regulation of Official Digital Currency Bill, 2019, was also put in the public domain.
The Supreme Court is slated to hear a challenge to a ban on cryptocurrencies by the central government and the Reserve Bank of India.
In its report, the committee has recommended that distributed ledger technology (DLT), the most common use of which is blockchain, can be of great benefit to the country in several financial and non-financial areas, such lowering costs of the Know Your Customer process and improving access to credit.
Ban cryptocurrencies, consider launching own digital money: Panel to govt “There is no underlying intrinsic value of private cryptocurrencies. These… lack all the attributes of a currency. There is no fixed nominal value of these private cryptocurrencies. They neither act as any store of value nor they are a medium of exchange,” the panel said in its report, noting that since their inception, cryptocurrencies had demonstrated extreme fluctuations in their prices.
The draft Bill states: “Whoever directly or indirectly mines, generates, holds, sells, deals in, transfers, disposes of or issues cryptocurrency or any combination thereof… shall be punishable with fine or with imprisonment which shall not be less than one year but which may extend up to ten years, or both.”
The panel said policymakers and regulators should have an open mind regarding the introduction of an official digital currency in India. “It may be possible to visualise some models of future official digital currencies but as of date it is unclear whether there is clear advantage in the context of India to come up with an official digital currency.”
The panel also recommended if required, a group can be constituted by the finance ministry’s department of economic affairs, with participation of the representatives of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeiTY), and the department of financial services for examination and development of an appropriate model of digital currency in India. If one is launched, the RBI should regulate it.Technology experts, however, were not very happy with the recommendations of the panel.
“The definition of cryptocurrency in the report is reasonably vague and may not cover something like Facebook’s libra or even bitcoin if one were to read it too technically. The drafting needs to be better,” said a lawyer who did not want to be named.Experts said it might be possible to develop a distributed ledger with nodes kept only in India.
“As a venture capitalist, I find… the suggestion of a ban quite disappointing because they did not engage with start-ups or domain experts,” said Nitin Sharma, technology investor and founder, Incrypt Blockchain.
Maruti, Hyundai skip rural slump, manage to increase sales in FY19
Chennai: The country’s largest two carmakers, Maruti and Hyundai, managed to increase their rural sales in 2018-19. This took place despite the rural economy being under pressure.
Both companies are optimistic about 2019-20, too, with the raising of rural allocations in the Union Budget and higher Minimum Support Prices. That means more of rural disposable income.
Maruti Suzuki’s (the country’s largest car maker) rural sales in 2018-19 rose to 205,000 units or 39 per cent of sales. A year before, it was around 165,000 units or 37 per cent of sales. This year’s outcome will depend on the monsoon, farm output and how rural sales pick up.
Hyundai’s rural sales were 17.3 per cent of its FY19 total, as against 15.6 per cent a year before. In FY20, the contribution is expected to be around 20 per cent.
Both companies — they address most of the spectrum — have said they are optimistic on the future, despite the overall industry having slowed. According to the Federation of Automobile Dealers Associations, passenger vehicle sales dropped by 4.6 per cent in FY19, to 224,755 units.
Shashank Srivastava, executive director for marketing and sales at Maruti, estimates growth of 4-8 per cent for the current financial year. However, he adds, a good monsoon and a satisfactory (for sales) festival season would be important, he adds.
With car penetration of around 22 per 1,000 population, India continues to be a big opportunity to sell cars, especially in rural areas. Srivastava says the rate of growth in the rural market has invariably been higher in recent years.
“Today, with booming internet users and a strong millennial population, rural markets are emerging as growth engines for sales,” he says.
Further, rural infrastructure has improved significantly. Motorability has seen sharp improvement there, resulting in exponential increase of two-wheeler sales and offering similar potential for cars.
Vikas Jain, national sales head at Hyundai Motor India, says customers of urban and rural markets might have differing needs but similar aspirations. In the latter, owning a car is a big aspiration.
Urban markets are experimenting with mobility solutions such as subscription and leasing. Hyundai has a partnership with self-drive car rental firm Revv and another with mobility solutions firm ALD Automotive India.
The company believes there is huge aspiration among youth in tier-1 and tier-II cities to own a vehicle. Rising disposable income and the expanding presence of financial institutions in rural markets, to offer credit at attractive rates, will enable ownership of cars.