Digital payments startup Paytm launches India’s biggest IPO

With its $2.46bn target, Paytm, backed by Ant Group, SoftBank, Berkshire Hathaway, will be India’s biggest IPO.

Paytm has made continual losses and is not sure if it will make a profit [File: Samyukta Lakshmi/Bloomberg]

India will see its biggest-ever initial public offering with digital payments platform Paytm looking to raise nearly $2.5bn, in what has already been a record year for share listings

Paytm is backed by Chinese tycoon Jack Ma’s Ant Group, Japan’s SoftBank and Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, which together own about a third of the company.

The firm was founded barely 10 years ago by Vijay Shekhar Sharma, the son of a teacher who says he learned English by listening to rock music.

He was ranked India’s youngest dollar billionaire four years ago at the age of 38 and now has a net worth of $2.4bn, according to Forbes.

His stake of nearly 14 percent will most likely make him far richer still with the IPO which opens on Monday.

Paytm will issue fresh shares worth 83 billion rupees ($1.1bn), while existing shareholders will sell shares worth $1.34bn, according to the prospectus.

The IPO is expected to make Paytm India’s most valuable tech company with a valuation of $20bn, up 25 percent from two years ago.

The platform was launched in 2010 and quickly became synonymous with digital payments in a country traditionally dominated by cash transactions.

It has benefitted from the government’s efforts to curb the use of cash – including the demonetisation of nearly all banknotes in circulation five years ago – and most recently, from COVID.

“I didn’t know corona[virus pandemic] would happen but Paytm was very useful to me during the pandemic,” grocery shop owner Naina Thakur told the AFP news agency.

Thakur said about a third of her customers pay her for milk, bread and other daily groceries via Paytm.

“It’s much easier than a bank transfer because they only need my mobile number to pay and I get the settlement within seven hours,” she said.

Thakur is one of nearly 22 million Indian shop owners, taxi and rickshaw drivers and other vendors who accept payments as low as 10 rupees ($0.13) using Paytm’s ubiquitous blue-and-white QR code stickers.

The platform had 114 million active annual users, according to the company’s regulatory filing in July.

The company said it undertook transactions worth more than $54bn in the 2020-21 financial year.

The number of mobile payments in India has skyrocketed in the last four years, accounting for 26 billion transactions in 2020-21.

Mumbai-based financial analysis firm Motilal Oswal estimates mobile digital payments in the country will cross $3.1 trillion in value by 2026.

‘Losses for the foreseeable future’

But Paytm has made continual losses and is not sure if it will make a profit. It reported a net loss of 17 billion rupees ($231.6m) last year on revenues of nearly 32 billion rupees ($436.1m).

“We expect to continue to incur net losses for the foreseeable future and we may not achieve profitability in the future,” the prospectus warned.

Paytm has reported negative cash flows for the last three years, primarily due to operational losses.

With its $2.46bn target, Paytm would surpass Coal India’s $2bn issue in 2010 to become India’s biggest IPO.

In advance of the offer, Paytm raised 82.35 billion rupees ($1.1bn) from 74 anchor investors, including BlackRock and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board last week.

Paytm will issue shares in a price band of 2,080-2,150 rupees ($27.9-$28.9) in the offering, which is slated to close on Wednesday.

Hemang Jani, head, equity strategy, at brokerage Motilal Oswal Financial Services, told Al Jazeera that while there was investor appetite for fin techs and startups both in India and globally, “at some point investors would ask questions about the business model, profitability and cash flows”.

Rishi Jhunjhunwala, vice president and IT analyst at IIFL Securities, warns that the “sustainability” of Paytm’s valuation “will depend on their ability to find a path to profitability over the next few years.”

Indian companies have raised a record $9.7bn through IPOs in 2021 so far, figures from market monitor Prime Database showed.

Food delivery giant Zomato was the country’s biggest IPO of the year until now with its $1.3bn share issue in July.

Source: AFP, Al Jazeera