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Paytm’s mega IPO is priced for perfection

Paytm’s Mega IPO Is Priced for Perfection

BY JACKY WONG | UPDATED NOV 17, 2021 08:21 AM EST

The firm is growing fast and financial services could be a powerful new growth driver. But deep pocketed competitors and the global regulatory wave pose risks.

Chinese billionaire Jack Ma may finally cash out through the initial public offering of a mobile payments giant. Not, however, a Chinese one.

One97 Communications, which owns Paytm—one of India’s leading mobile payment companies—is set to go public on Thursday in the country’s largest-ever IPO. China’s Ant Group, backed by Mr. Ma, is the company’s largest shareholder with an approximately 28% stake. Its affiliate company Alibaba also owns a roughly 7% stake. Both companies are set for a windfall: They first invested in Paytm in 2015, when its valuation was much lower. Paytm’s offer price values the company at nearly $20 billion. Ant itself failed to go public one year ago as regulators halted its IPO at the last minute.

Other well-known billionaire investors are also set for a payday. Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway and Masayoshi Son’s SoftBank are other backers of the Indian company. SoftBank’s investments in China, including Alibaba, have suffered under that country’s regulatory crackdown. It’s a different story in India. In addition to Paytm, other Indian startups backed by SoftBank have gone public or plan to this year, taking advantage of the buoyant market.

Mobile payments have taken off in India in recent years, as the cost of smartphones and mobile plans have dropped. Banking services are relatively underdeveloped and so mobile payments have become one of the easiest ways to access financial services, similar to what has happened in China. The 2016 launch of Unified Payments Interface, an open system regulated by the central bank, has also helped mobile payments become more popular.

Investors are excited about India because e-commerce is still at a relatively early stage, given that around half of the population doesn’t even use the internet. Total payments made to merchants on Paytm’s app grew 76% in the past two years to 4 trillion rupees in the fiscal year ended March, the equivalent of $54 billion.

Paytm has borrowed the playbook of its Chinese investors. Payments are fundamentally just a way to grow its user base. The company is actually banking on selling high-margin financial services to its 337 million customers. Paytm disbursed 1.4 million loans for the quarter ending in June, compared with 23,000 a year earlier. Bernstein expects financial services will be 19% of its revenue in the fiscal year ending March 2027, up from 5% currently. Paytm has also leapt aboard the latest trend in payments with its own buy-now, pay-later service. Fintech companies from PayPal to Square are all jumping into the space.

That growth potential is probably why investors are paying a premium even though Paytm remains in the red. At the IPO price, Paytm is trading at 50 times last fiscal year’s revenue. PayPal is trading at 10 times.

Such lofty heights may be justified—if Paytm continues to grow at a stellar pace. But it’s also facing strong competition. Google and Walmart’s PhonePe have big market share in the peer-to-peer payments market and could be formidable rivals. WhatsApp, which has partnered with mobile carrier Jio, controlled by India’s richest man, is another potential challenger.

Regulation is another risk. Ant’s ambitions were sunk in part by Beijing’s decision to regulate the company more like a bank. Future moves by Indian regulators may not be as drastic. But tighter regulation of consumer internet firms is a global trend.

Paytm investors are betting everything goes right at current prices. New Delhi—and the competition—might have different ideas.

 

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