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Russian-Indian M&A pact aims at bulge bracket
December, 15th 2009

A Kazakh resources company wants to buy African mining assets. Where does it go for advice - London, New York or Hong Kong? 

None of the above, if Hasnen Varawalla has his way.

Varawalla is head of corporate finance at Renaissance Capital, Russia's biggest home-grown investment bank, which has forged an exclusive co-operation agreement for cross-border mergers and acquisitions with Kotak Investment Banking, a unit of Kotak Mahindra Bank.

The alliance, unveiled in Mumbai on Tuesday, aims to use Renaissance's franchise in Russia, the former Soviet Union and Africa and Kotak's Indian experience to help big companies from those countries buy into each other's markets.

"It's an idea whose time has come," said Varawalla, who left Credit Suisse to join Renaissance in Moscow three years ago, adding the alliance will rival global "bulge bracket" investment banks, who already have a strong presence in the same markets.

Citing a string of recent deals, such as Russian conglomerate Sistema's purchase of Indian telecom player Shyam, Gazprom's oil well development in the Bay of Bengal or Indian player ONGC's takeover of Imperial Energy for its Russian and Kazakh energy assets, Varawalla says the hunger by big developing world companies to buy into each other's markets is growing.

"Companies from this part of the world specialise in low-cost business models," he explains. "They know how to run things on a shoestring. For expansion into Africa, companies from the emerging world are that much stronger."

And the old model whereby acquisitive and ambitious emerging market companies automatically looked only to big Western banks for help is already history, he says.

Multinational banks are "less and less the only source of cross-border investment and M&A within emerging markets", he said.

"Increasingly this flow is between emerging markets," he said adding the Renaissance-Kotak combination will appeal because clients will appreciate what he says is the local players' deeper knowledge of their markets and better coordination.

Varawalla believes that resources are the most obvious sector for such cross-emerging market deals "but by no means the only one".

He suggests telecommunications, the defence industry, construction, IT outsourcing, infrastructure and the banking sector as other promising areas for Indian, Russian and African players to seek assets and tie-ups.

"Indian financial companies have been active in Africa for the last 60 or 70 years," he said. "There is now an opportunity for them to grow and expand."

In the resources sector, Indian companies have some catching up to do in Africa, where Varawalla says they are well behind the Chinese, who have announced deals valued at $20 billion in the continent in the last 12-18 months.

No equity is changing hands for the co-operation deal between Renaissance and Kotak and fees will be split in proportion to their contributions to transactions they make.

Varawalla declined to specify targets for how much business the venture, which has no dedicated employees, is meant to bring in during its first years.

Wearing his corporate finance hat, he also sees a wave of new equity offerings from the markets Renaissance serves over the next year as the global appetite for risk returns.

"A lot of companies who had plans on hold will come to market next year," he said. "I suspect 2010 will be a strong year."

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