NEW DELHI — As 2020 winds to a close, India’s biggest retail deal of the year hangs in the balance following a Delhi High Court decision that did not — as was widely expected — close out the options for Amazon to continue to fight the acquisition of Future Retail Ltd. by Reliance Retail Ventures Ltd.
The deal in question was valued at $3.38 billion. Unveiled on Aug. 30, the acquisition would bring together two of India’s biggest retailers — Reliance Retail Ventures Ltd., which is already the market leader with more than 12,000 brick-and-mortar stores across the country, and the more than 1,700 stores owned by the Future Group.
Indian regulatory bodies Securities and Exchange Board of India and the Competition Commission of India must approve the deal.
But it turns out that it’s going to be a long road ahead now, industry analysts and legal experts observed on Monday, anticipating a series of legal maneuvers as the High Court rejected Future Group’s plea.
Amazon put a hold on the process several weeks after the initial announcement, contending breach of contract. In December 2019, Amazon acquired a 49 percent stake in Future Coupons Ltd., which owns 7.3 percent of Future Retail. The deal gave Amazon 3.6 percent of Future Retail, and the right to buy into the company after a period of between three and 10 years.
Amazon already won an appeal for breach of contract in the Singapore International Arbitration Centre on Oct. 26, which put the transaction on hold. Questions about the SIAC judgment being valid in India, and approval of the deal by the Competition Commission of India in November appeared to be a setback for Amazon.
Evoking nationalism, and references to foreign interference, the Future Group has said that the “American giant should not be allowed to kill Future Group” only to “further its illegitimate interest to make sure that Reliance does not get its hands in. That’s its game plan — if I can’t get it, let Reliance not get it, too.” Future Group has been impacted by a major cash crunch, worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown in India earlier in the year.
There is a lot at stake — the legal wrangle does not just involve a breach of contract or regulations, but rather are part of a larger play for domination in the $850 billion Indian retail market, market analysts noted on Monday.
Reliance has been stepping up its game in the fast-growing e-commerce segment, and is being seen as a major threat in the space in India, which is dominated by Amazon, and Walmart-owned Flipkart.