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Ant Group cuts stake in India's Zomato ahead of IPO

Prospectus shows Alibaba affiliate u-turned on plans to boost ownership

China's Ant Group first invested in Zomato in 2018. It is not unusual for investors to sell stakes before a company goes public, especially when demand for shares is strong. (Source photos by Getty Images and AP)

TOKYO -- China's Ant Group cut its holdings of India's Zomato over the past year, reversing an earlier plan to boost its stake in the food delivery company, underscoring the dramatic shift in the countries' investment climates.

Alipay Singapore Holding, a subsidiary of Ant Group, cut its stake in Zomato to 558.9 million shares from 777.5 million shares a year ago, according to Zomato's draft prospectus filed on Tuesday. Alipay Singapore agreed to sell the shares in February and March to investment funds, including D1 Capital Partners and Steadview Capital, according to the prospectus.

The document also shows that a separate Ant entity, Antfin Singapore Holding, scrapped part of an agreement to invest $150 million in Zomato. Zomato said the parties "mutually agreed not to proceed with" two-thirds of the total.

The original agreement came in January 2020.

Zomato went on to raise hundreds of millions of dollars from other investors and plans to raise another 82.5 billion rupees ($1.1 billion) in its domestic initial public offering. Ant is currently still Zomato's second major shareholder, with a combined stake of 16.5%. A senior vice president of Ant sits on Zomato's board.

Zomato declined to comment. Ant did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

It is not unusual for investors in a company to sell a stake before the company goes public, especially when demand for the shares is strong. Founders who want to court new investors but do not want to dilute their ownership, for example, could opt for a mix of issuing new shares and a sale of existing shares by early investors.

Zomato was founded in 2010, and Ant made its first investment in 2018.

Still, the development highlights the shift in investment appetite among Chinese tech giants in India.

Last April, India revised foreign investment rules to require that Chinese investors seek government approval for investments in India. The revision followed a deadly border clash between the two countries.

The Indian government has also banned more than 200 Chinese apps.

Ant Group has also been grappling with the aftermath of last year's canceled IPO, which was to be the world's largest. It was scuppered after controlling shareholder Jack Ma made critical comments. Alibaba Group Holding and other tech giants have also been hit with anti-monopoly probes domestically.

Rahul Malhotra, an analyst at Bernstein, said the Zomato development was likely due to a combination of Alibaba's challenges at home as well as difficulties in making new investments in India. He said he does not expect Ant to have a significant influence on Zomato's management.

India's competition watchdog on April 28 gave approval for Tata Digital, a subsidiary of Indian conglomerate Tata Sons, to buy up to 64.3% of shares in the owner of BigBasket, an Indian online grocer backed by Alibaba. Some local media reported that Tata is buying out Alibaba's stake as part of the transaction.

BigBasket declined to comment.

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