Kishore Biyani's Future Group is in talks with Mukesh Ambani's Reliance Retail to sell its flagship Future Retail to pay mounting debts. The companies have supposedly reached an agreement regarding certain terms and conditions, and a deal worth Rs 24,000-27,000 crore could be signed soon. The deal will make RIL the number one player in brick-and-mortar space in India across categories such as fashion, groceries, and merchandise, and will lead to Biyani's exit from the retail business. The company will take the final call on the stake sale to Reliance Retail during the board meeting on Saturday. The meeting is crucial since it comes in the wake of Rs 100 crore worth interest payment on senior secured dollar notes, whose deadline - after 30 days grace period -- ends on August 21. The non-payment of interest will place Future Retails Ltd in the 'default' category.
The selling of controlling stake in Future Retail to Mukesh Ambani's RIL is seen as the biggest setback to Biyani, known as one of the best minds in retail business in India. The situation for Biyani is so bad that had the government not announced exemption of COVID-19 related debt from default and suspension of fresh insolvency cases, his company would currently be facing bankruptcy proceedings.
But how did Kishore Biyani come to this point where he is left with no option but to sell his company? Here are the main reasons:
- Future Group has accrued heavy debt over the years. As of September 30, 2019, debt at Future Group's listed entities rose to Rs 12,778 crore from Rs 10,951 crore as on March 31, 2019. He had the March deadline for repayment of some of these dues. But the Reserve Bank of India's loan moratorium has provided a breather.
- The market buzz about his inability to service debt began in mid-February, sending group companies shares crashing and triggering rating downgrades. Lenders sought more shares as collateral against loans to Biyani.
- Coronavirus pandemic crippled the company's operations, and shutdowns of stores and subsequent cash crunch forced it to default on debts.
- Biyani became over-ambitious in core retailing and his focus on the neighbourhood format stores EasyDay, Nilgiris and Heritage backfired. He invested heavily on these ventures but they did not succeed.
- His excitement about the group's FMCG business, Future Consumer particularly proved infectious. He dreamt of scaling up the Rs 2,000 crore business to Rs 20,000 crore by 2021. But the company faced losses, resulting in 11.24 per cent decline in its profit to Rs 619 crore in the first nine months of FY20. The company has not declared full-year results so far.
- The group has 990 EasyDay stores; it shut down 150 as of Q3FY20. Same-store sales growth of Future Retail formats was just 2.1 per cent in the quarter, but it stood at negative in Q4 as the coronavirus hit the economy hard.
- Biyani hoped to attract loyalty in smaller format stores with a Rs 999/ year loyalty programme for a 10 per cent discount. The model didn't work, say, analysts, adding that Biyani would have managed to pull off the small store format if the coronavirus pandemic had not happened.
- Almost 35-40 per cent merchandise at Future Group formats were its own brands, which failed to attract customers. This led to heavy losses for the company.
- Biyani, who is known to be the man of ideas, failed to implement many of them on the ground level.
- Biyani's struggle with debt has a long history. In FY12, he was in an identical Rs 12,000 crore debt soup, which forced him to sell his most valuable asset, Pantaloons Retail, to Aditya Birla group for Rs 1,600 crore. He also sold Future Capital to Warburg Pincus for Rs 4,250 crore.
Also read: Future Uncertain