KKR invests $250 million in Reliance Retail at $100 billion valuation

KKR is doubling down on its bet in Reliance Retail, valuing India’s largest retail chain at $100 billion in a fresh $250 million investment. The deal follows the Qatar Investment Authority investing $1 billion in Mukesh Ambani's retail empire just last month.

The New York-headquartered private equity firm KKR invested about $755 million in Reliance Retail in 2020, when the Indian firm was valued at about $62 billion. Reliance Retail, part of conglomerate Reliance Industries, operates 18,500 stores and digital commerce platforms in India, selling everything from electronics to fashion and pharma.

The investment comes at a time when Reliance Retail is expanding into new categories, including low-cost fast-fashion, and is also considering a public listing. The company, which also recently partnered with Shein to help the Chinese e-commerce firm reenter India, has purchased and integrated a number of other businesses.

Reliance Retail has also made a push into e-commerce in recent years, including maintaining a tie-up with Meta’s WhatsApp to sell grocery through the instant messaging app. Though Walmart-owned Flipkart and Amazon India currently lead the local e-commerce market, analysts believe that Reliance will eventually outpace both firms.

"Throughout our investment period in Reliance Retail, we have been impressed by the company’s vision and extensive work to empower retailers across India through digitalization, as well as by its resilience and performance in spite of the pandemic and other disruptions," said Joe Bae, co-chief executive of KKR, in a statement.

AllianceBernstein estimated in a note earlier this year that Reliance’s robust retail network, sweeping mobile network and digital ecosystem and a “home field advantage” in a notoriously challenging regulatory landscape will help the Indian conglomerate beat online rivals.

“The medium-term investment case for RIL is driven by: (1) strong cash flows and ability to invest in growth businesses and (2) potential value-unlocking in the medium term: We believe the operating earnings downgrade cycle for RIL is likely behind us, with energy driving FY24 and consumer pick-up likely in FY25. Jio+Retail capex should fall sharply from FY25 even as earnings pick up. Beyond earnings, we believe potential value-unlocking via stake sales/IPO/listings could be a material stock price driver over the next 2-3 years,” wrote JPMorgan analysts in a note last month.

Reliance Industries, which owns the majority of Reliance Retail Ventures and is the largest company by market cap in India, has aggressively expanded into a wide range of sectors, including telecom and on-demand video streaming, in the past decade as it diversifies from its reliance on oil. Isha, the daughter of Mukesh Ambani, leads the retail business.

"We highly value our deepening partnership with KKR, and their latest investment in RRVL after their previous investment further reinforces their strong belief in RRVL’s vision and capabilities," she said in a statement. "We look forward to continued engagement with KKR and to benefit from their global platform, industry knowledge and operational expertise, in our journey towards driving transformation of the Indian retail sector."

KKR is also a backer of Jio Platforms, a subsidiary of Reliance Industries. Isha's brother Akash oversees Jio Platforms. Mukesh Ambani's children were elevated to the Reliance's board last month as their father pledged to mentor them over the next five years to take charge of the company.