Indian billionaire-investor Rakesh Jhunjhunwala dies at 62

Rakesh Jhunjhunwala is survived by his wife and three children. PHOTO: REUTERS

MUMBAI (BLOOMBERG) - Billionaire investor Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, locally known as India’s Warren Buffett due to his penchant for equity investing, has died. He was 62.

The veteran stock market investor was a self-made trader, and invested in several established businesses and startups, including the country’s newest airline Akasa Air. Known for his selection of stocks for long-term investing, Mr Jhunjhunwala was among the most influential market voices in India.

While equity investments in the world’s second-most populous nation are yet to emerge as a major source of household savings and form less than 5 per cent of assets, the south Asian nation has in recent years experienced a frenzy of retail investments in the equity market.

India has added about 58 million new retail investors, more than the population of South Korea, since the outbreak of the pandemic in early 2020.

Mr Jhunjhunwala, known as “Big Bull” in India, said in an interview with Bloomberg News in 2005 that his strategy of picking stocks ahead of their growth cycle was inspired by US billionaire George Soros and Hong Kong investor Marc Faber, while Berkshire Hathaway Inc chairman and chief executive officer Warren Buffett was one of his role models.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi confirmed Mr Jhunjhunwala’s death in a post on Twitter. He said the investor was “indomitable” and left behind “an indelible contribution to the financial world”.

Mr Jhunjhunwala was instrumental in taking some privately held companies public, including Star Health and Allied Insurance Co Ltd and gaming firm Nazara Technologies Ltd. His latest venture was Akasa, which started operations earlier this month.

“He was somebody who could understand how to run companies as well as the market,” said Mr Motilal Oswal, a co-founder of Mumbai-based Motilal Oswal Financial Services Ltd, one of India’s biggest brokerages.

“That’s very rare. Some of his big investments happened in recent years, when he was nearing 60s and wasn’t keeping well.” 

From US$100 to billions

Mr Jhunjhunwala developed a childhood fascination for stocks by watching his father, a retired tax commissioner, juggle market investments, he said in the interview. After graduating with honours from Sydenham College of Commerce and Economics in Mumbai, he borrowed US$100 (S$137) from a brother-in-law in 1985 and began buying shares at age 25.

Acquisition of Titan Ltd shares was among his most-profitable investments. He placed his bets in early 2000s on the Tata Group firm that predominantly made watches and was struggling with labour issues. Mr Jhunjhunwala, along with his wife, held about a 4 per cent stake as of June in Titan, which is now India’s biggest jewelry firm. The stock has surged more than 26,000 per cent since the start of 2005.

“Rakesh Jhunjhunwala believed in India and the sheer potential of the country,” Mr N Chandrasekaran, chairman of Tata Sons said in a statement. “This conviction led him to consistently make bold decisions throughout his life and career.” 

Tributes came pouring in. India’s Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said in a Twitter post that Mr Jhunjhunwala was a “bold risk taker”, who had a strong belief in India’s strength and capabilities.

Mr Uday Kotak, Asia’s richest banker who founded Kotak Mahindra Bank Ltd, remembered his school and college mate, and said in a Twitter post: “Amazingly sharp in understanding financial markets.”

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