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Outbound mergers & acquisitions will stay quiet for some time: Sanjay Bhandarkar, Rothschild India
April, 24th 2013

Amidst the slowing deal flow, are there any positive signs that you are picking up?

For us, signs are only driven by the level of activities we are seeing in the deals that we are doing. Lot of cases where things were very slow, and deal discussions that went into cold storage are seeing a pick-up in activity.

Pick-up in the engagement of the people and people are actually looking to do the deals. However, the situation is tentative and vulnerable to adverse news flow, both local and global.

So, are we going to soon see those go-go years again?

My sense is the recovery will probably be slow. You would probably see a larger base of mid-sized deals in the $100-500 million range, and then you will see odd big deal that will happen. But most deals will be in the mid-sized category. It will take time.

My sense is outbound mergers and acquisitions will continue to remain a bit quiet. The large deals will probably be in the energy space. You will see more inbound deals in the mid-sized category.

But, where are the companies who could do deals? Many adventurous ones are debt laden and those light ones are risk averse?

People are becoming more disciplined about what they will do. The world has changed. There are far fewer people in India who have the balance sheet and capability to make big bets even if they believe the strategic theses apply as far as business is concerned.

In a lot of instances, businesses in India are a lot more challenged. People had done all the hard work from 1999 to 2003, repairing balance sheets, cutting costs and they were seeing the benefits of a growing economy and growth translating into profits and cash flows.

Today, the cycle is quite different even on that front. The number of companies who can do transformational mergers and acquisitions are few and far between. For that, the strategic intent and the balance sheet will have to be strong.

Are there more sellers than buyers?

In a lot of companies where private equity is involved, there is a need to exit now as these companies are still not large enough to attract capital market, which is also becoming bigger and more institutionalised.

Liquidity is an important criterion. We are also seeing situations where there are intergenerational issues. The business may be set-up by a first generation entrepreneur, but his kids might not be interested in running the business.

In some cases, the promoters are deciding to distribute among kids the proceeds from the sale of a business rather than giving the business itself.

A lot of i-banks are either witnessing achurn, or slash in people. Where does Rothschild stand?

Rothschild has always been very careful when it comes to hiring people. We are also an organisation that prides itself in terms of nurturing home-grown talent. So we like to ensure people come up the ranks effectively than get people from outside. Our culture is different compared to some other investment banks.

League table craze among many investment banks is hitting revenues. What is your view?

I think it's less relevant because M&A business is all about getting specific deals. What is your capability to do the particular business? What are thoughts and ideas? You are evaluated on these things.

Compared to let's say on equity capital market side, which is much more of a flow business and there, there is a value to league tables since it is process driven. In M&A, I am of the view that value of league-table is more limited.

Many banks are building investment banking capability even in a slowing economy. How do you look at Axis and HDFC Bank getting into this?

I can see it making sense for them in wider portfolio of offering to corporate clients and ensuring a richer dialogue and greater share of the wallet. How successful they will be and what focus will be only time will tell. Our focus is cross border so we don't see them as competitors but, as potential partners in certain situations where we can complement each other.

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