Billionaire investor Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRK.B) has bought a $356 million stake in One97 Communications Ltd, according to a source speaking with Reuters. In an email to the news wire, Berkshire confirmed that it has invested in the Indian firm and added that Buffett was not involved in the transaction.
One97's flagship brand, Paytm, operates India's largest digital wallet. It has also been making strides in the country's growing e-commerce sector with Paytm Mall. Paytm announced the funding round from Berkshire on its website Tuesday morning and said Berkshire investment manager Todd Combs has joined its board of directors.
“I have been impressed by Paytm and am excited about being a part of its growth story, as it looks to transform payments and financial services in India,” said Combs.
Berkshire was sitting on $111 billion in cash at the end of last quarter and lifted the cap on stock buybacks last month.The One97 deal marks the conglomerate's first direct investment in an Indian company and its first investment in a privately-held technology company, noted Indian newspaper Mint. (See also: Berkshire Removes Cap on Share Buybacks, Stock Climbs)
According to two sources speaking with Mint, Berkshire was in talks with One97 since early February to raise about $300 million-$350 million at a valuation of about $10 million-$12 billion. The Economic Times reported separately that Berkshire is looking to pick up a 3-4% stake in the company for about $285.4 million-$356.7 million, and the deal is being done through a primary subscription of shares. (See also: How Berkshire Should Prepare for Life After Buffett)
Mobile payments service Paytm was started in 2010, but it gained prominence in November 2016 when the Indian government took the controversial decision to demonetize Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 currency notes. Due to severe shortages in the cash-dependent nation, many Indians took to doing transactions digitally for the first time. Paytm's user base soared from 140 million in October 2016 to 270 million in November 2017. It now claims to serve 300 million registered users. Its revenue grew 38.6% to $118 million in FY 2017, and it trimmed its net loss by 39% to $128.9 million during the same period.
One97's largest shareholders include Chinese tech giant Alibaba Group Holding (BABA), Japan’s SoftBank Group, China’s Ant Financial, SAIF Partners and MediaTek.
Last month reports said Paytm was in talks with U.S. investors and SoftBank to raise $300 million-$500 million to boost its hyperlocal online-to-offline business. “Paytm wants to enable same-city commerce and help restaurants, grocery stores and pharmacies grow their walk-ins through offers and deals. We have already tied up with 4,500-5,000 merchants," Paytm founder & CEO Vijay Shekhar Sharma told The Economic Times.
One97's brands compete with global entities like PayPal Holdings Inc. (PYPL), Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) and Google's (GOOGL) India payments app Tez. Facebook Inc.'s (FB) WhatsApp also began testing a payment service in the country this year. (See also: Morgan Stanley Thinks Berkshire Should Buy This Airline)