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Reliance Industries nears deal to acquire retail businesses of Future Group

A deal with Reliance offers a much comprehensive solution to Kishore Biyani’s debt problems

Last Updated: Jun 30, 2020, 01.04 PM IST
(File photo)
(This story originally appeared in on Jun 30, 2020)
BENGALURU: Reliance Industries (RIL) has moved close to clinching a deal to buy the retail businesses of Kishore Biyani’s Future Group.

The move will further cement RIL’s position as the top brick-and-mortar player across categories like groceries, fashion and general merchandise, said two people briefed on the matter.

The deal will involve at least three companies promoted by Biyani—Future Retail, Future Lifestyle Fashions and Future Supply Chain Solutions —going for a merger. The combined business will then be acquired by the Mukesh Ambani-controlled petrochemicals-to-telecom conglomerate.

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The discussions are now at an advanced stage, and RIL is keen on closing it before the upcoming AGM on July 15. But details are still being ironed out on both sides, and a final deal is still to be signed, the sources said. Discussions for the deal started earlier this year as one of Biyani’s holding units defaulted on a loan repayment.

Known as the retail king, Biyani has since then been looking at options, including stake sales in retail units and also putting up for sale the insurance joint venture Future Generali.

Several other players like US-based retail giant Amazon had evinced interest in Future Group. But a deal with Reliance offers a much comprehensive solution to Biyani’s debt problems, said a source. “It is likely to be a complex transaction as, first, Future Group will announce a scheme of arrangement to merge into one company. RIL is most likely to completely buy out this combined entity in exchange for its shares,” said one of the sources. Existing investors in various Future Group businesses—Amazon, Blackstone and PremjiInvest—may get shares in RIL. The deal with Reliance is interesting as Jeff Bezos-owned Amazon has had a business partnership with Future Group since 2014. Last year, Amazon also acquired an indirect stake in Future Retail by investing in one of the promoter entities of Biyani.

“It’s fair to assume it’s going in Reliance’s direction now. Even though others are still in talks with Future, the strategic direction is clear now, compared to last week when it could have gone either way,” a person aware of the matter said. He added that while Reliance will take over all of the retail businesses, some brands and manufacturing businesses under companies like Future Consumer and Future Market Networks might remain with Biyani. These details are yet to be finalised as talks were under way on Monday.

An email sent to Future Group and RIL spokespersons did not elicit any response till the time of going to the press. Two separate sources said Amazon’s rights, when it struck a deal with Future Coupons giving it an almost 4% stake indirectly in Future Retail last year, is “subjective to conditions” and might not be a big hurdle for the deal.

“Reliance would have certainly looked at it before proceeding on the deal,” one of the people mentioned earlier said.

These people said the implication of this deal with Reliance would have a “significant impact” on the retail sector — both online and offline. Future Retail has over 1,500 retail stores in various formats through brands like Big Bazaar, Nilgiris and Easyday, while Future Lifestyle has 300 stores through brands life Central and Brand Factory.

“This would add a new dimension to the much-touted Ambani-Bezos (Amazon CEO) battle,” this person said.
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