Paytm IPO raises $3.3b in India’s biggest share sale

Paytm started as a mobile wallet in 2009, but saw its fortunes rise dramatically after 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGALORE - India's biggest issue of public shares crawled to a close on Wednesday (Nov 10), with fintech app company Paytm successfully raising about 183 billion rupees (S$3.3 billion). It has surpassed the share sales of Coal India - India's largest coal miner - and Reliance Power, the largest private sector electricity generator.

Paytm's parent company, One97 Communications, received investments from the Government of Singapore, the Abu Dhabi Sovereign Wealth Fund and the University of Cambridge, as well as large investors such as Blackrock and the Canadian pension fund.

Institutional investors bid for 2.79 times the number of shares reserved for them, while retail investors bid for 1.66 times.

However, the record-setting initial public offering (IPO) was less brisk than expected, reaching full subscription only on the final lap of its three-day offer.

Paytm started as a mobile wallet in 2009, but saw its fortunes rise dramatically after 2016, when the government launched a national mobile payment system and Prime Minister Narendra Modi scrapped 500 and 1,000 rupee banknotes on Nov 8 in a controversial "demonetisation" measure.

The company's founder, Mr Vijay Shekhar Sharma, had then published full-page print advertisements congratulating the Prime Minister "on taking the boldest decision in the financial history of independent India".

The IPO was launched on the fifth anniversary of the demonetisation announcement.

Paytm is now India's largest digital payments platform, with a market share of about 40 per cent. The app has seen the number of users and transactions grow over time, and now allows its millions of users to buy insurance, send money to friends and book movie tickets. One97 has yet to make a profit, but it says it will use the fresh funds to grow its ecosystem.

With the IPO, Ant Group, which had a 28 per cent holding in Paytm, sold shares worth 47.04 billion rupees and will be left with a 23 per cent stake. SoftBank's Vision Fund cut its stake from 18.5 per cent to 16 per cent with a 16.89 billion rupee share sale.

Paytm faces stiff competition from Google Pay, Walmart's PhonePe and WhatsApp, which may have contributed to the somewhat tepid response to its public offer.

The IPO was oversubscribed by about 1.89 times, which some analysts said is on a par with global issues, but markedly lower than for other recent Indian tech IPOs.

Online beauty shop Nykaa was oversubscribed 82 times on Wednesday. In July, food delivery app Zomato's IPO was oversubscribed by 38 times. But both companies are smaller than Paytm.

Analysts said the slow uptake could have been because the pricing of the shares appeared to be expensive to retail investors. Paytm priced its shares at 2,080 rupees to 2,150 rupees, valuing the company at 1.39 trillion rupees, which is at the upper end of the price band.

India's stock market has soared to record highs in recent months, following the lifting of lockdowns and reopening of businesses. There was a flurry of public listings too, including those of tech companies such as hotel booking site Oyo, courier app Delhivery and insurance aggregator Policybazaar.

Finance professor Aswath Damodaran from New York University wrote in his blog that since almost all of Paytm's value comes from future expectations, and there was significant uncertainty on every dimension, this was not a "buy-and-hold sort of investment".

"This is the type of stock that you would put 5 per cent or perhaps 10 per cent of your portfolio in, not 25 per cent or 40 per cent," he said.

A Bangalore start-up investor said he chose not to invest in Paytm despite it being a digital wallet leader because the "high valuation signalled that there is no clear path to profitability yet".

A day into the share issue, Mr Harsh Goenka, the chairman of RPG Group, tweeted praise for Paytm's founder: "To prosper in the new India, you don't need family background, knowledge of great English or money - you need to dream, persevere and work hard. A teacher's son, from a small city, from a Hindi medium school is doing the biggest IPO in our history."

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