Dubai venture firm targets India’s health and education sectors

Abhishek Sharma, chief executive of Foundation Holdings.
Updated 07 March 2018
0

Dubai venture firm targets India’s health and education sectors

DUBAI: Dubai-based global investment firm Foundation Holdings will invest millions of dollars in India as wealthy investors and companies in the Gulf tap into the increasingly lucrative emerging market.
The multi-family investment firm plans to spend $275 million in India’s health care, education and consumer sectors. This is around half the company’s total planned investment of $550 million globally over the next five years, according to chief executive Abhishek Sharma.
Low interest rates and easy access to capital pushed the disclosed deal value in private equities in India to $24.4 billion in 2017, up from $19.3 billion in 2015 and $15.4 billion in 2016, according to a report from research company Venture Intelligence released in December. Health care was among the top five sectors, attracting investment of $1.3 billion, up 10 percent from the previous year.
“These industries are continuously witnessing demand and have strong government backing not only in India but also across the world,” Sharma said.
Foundation Holdings’ investors are mainly from the UAE and India, with family businesses and family offices the main backers.
“These sectors have a vast potential because India is consumer-driven,” said Gaurang Shah, head investment strategist at Geojit Financial Services in Mumbai. “(But) the working capital requirement is huge because (new entrants) need to penetrate new geographies and there is a long gestation period to break into profitability.”
Wealthy individuals and financial institutions in the Gulf have expanded their portfolios in India as ties between the two regions deepen.
High-profile visits have helped to cement the relationship. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi toured Saudi Arabia in 2016 and Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi, visited India in January this year.
In September last year, Dubai-based private equity firm Abraaj Group announced it would develop a wind-power platform in India in partnership with French gas and power company Engie. India’s ambitious renewable energy program has a target of 175 gigawatts of operational renewable energy capacity by March 2022.
Abraaj and Engie said their wind-power projects could account for 1 gigawatts of power.
In December, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (Adia) and KKR India Financial Services (KIFS) signed a deal that made Adia a “significant minority shareholder” in KIFS, which runs an alternative credit business in India.
Foundation Holdings will invest in companies to prepare them for an IPO or find them a home on the FTSE 100, such as Al Noor Hospitals, or on the Dubai Financial Market, such as Amanat Holdings.
The firm’s latest investment, Dubai-based Right Health, was formed through the acquisition and integration of 31 medical and health-service providers to an IPO.
Annual foreign direct investment from the Gulf to India was $1.4 billion in 2016, a five-year growth rate of 41.2 percent, a report from Alpen Capital said last year. Total annual investment inflow to India was $44.4 billion in 2016, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.
However, India has not always been a happy hunting ground for investors from the Gulf. The UAE telecom major Etisalat wrote off $820 million in impairment charges in 2012.
“Investing in India comes with its set of challenges, like other countries,” Sharma said. “Some of these include certain state-level legislations, registration of documents and data privacy matters.”
He said Narendra Modi has done “a great job” in encouraging bilateral relations between the Gulf and India.


Bitcoin craze hits Iran as US sanctions squeeze weak economy

Updated 1 min 33 sec ago
0

Bitcoin craze hits Iran as US sanctions squeeze weak economy

  • Some Iranian officials worry that “mining” is abusing the subsidized electricity
  • Iranian Bitcoin miners are purchasing more affordable Chinese ready-made computers
TEHRAN: Iranians feeling the squeeze from US sanctions targeting the Islamic Republic’s ailing economy are increasingly turning to such digital currencies as Bitcoin to make money, prompting alarm in and out of the country.
In Iran, some government officials worry that the energy-hungry process of “mining” Bitcoin is abusing Iran’s system of subsidized electricity; in the United States, some observers have warned that cryptocurrencies could be used to bypass the Trump administration’s sanctions targeting Iran over its unraveling nuclear deal with world powers.
The Bitcoin craze has made the front pages of Iranian newspapers and been discussed by some of the country’s top ayatollahs, and there have been televised police raids on hidden computer farms set up to bring in money by “mining” the currency.
Like other digital currencies, Bitcoin is an alternative to money printed by sovereign governments around the world. Unlike those bills, however, cryptocurrencies are not controlled by a central bank. Bitcoin and other digital currencies like it trade globally in highly speculative markets without any backing from a physical entity.
As a result, computers around the world “mine” the data, meaning they use highly complex algorithms to verify transactions. The verified transactions, called blocks, are then added to a public record, known as the blockchain. Any time “miners” add a new block to the blockchain, they are rewarded with a payment in bitcoins.
To work, the expensive specialized computers require a lot of electricity to power their processors and to keep them cool. In Iran, “miners” have an edge because electricity is cheap thanks to longtime government subsidies. “Miners” also buy cheaper Chinese ready-made computers to do the work.
But the constant raids and authorities’ conflicting statements on the issue have Bitcoin “miners” in Iran incredibly leery of being identified. Those contacted by The Associated Press refused to speak about their work or to say how much they earn from their “mining.”
But they acknowledge they do this to make some money at a time when Iran’s currency, the rial, tumbled from 32,000 rials to $1 at the time of the 2015 nuclear deal, to around 120,000 rials to $1 now.
“It is clear that here has turned into a heaven for ‘miners,’” Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, Iran’s minister for information and communications technology, recently told AP in an interview. “The business of ‘mining’ is not forbidden in law but the government and the Central Bank have ordered the Customs Bureau to ban the import of (mining machines) until new regulations are introduced.”
Ali Bakhshi, the head of the Iran Electrical Industry Syndicate, said earlier this month that the country’s Energy Ministry likely would boost costs for Bitcoin “miners” to 7 cents for each kilowatt of electricity they consume, a massive increase from the current half-cent but still almost half the cost of electricity in the United States, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.
Still, there are concerns, especially among Iran’s religious leaders, that people might try to circumvent paying extra for the electricity as well as using digital currency to hide or move money illicitly.
Tabnak, a hard-line news website associated with a former commander of the country’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, quoted three ayatollahs describing Bitcoin as either problematic or “haram,” meaning forbidden. Islam prescribes strict rules about finance.
But Jahromi said clerics became more receptive to the idea after his staff briefed them that Bitcoin had a value in the real world, which is required under Islamic finance. Islamic finance also prohibits gambling, the payment of interest and misleading others.
“Some of our top clerics have issued fatwas that say Bitcoin is money without a reserve, that it is rejected by Islamic and cybercurrencies are haram,” Jahromi said. “When we explain to them this is not a currency but an asset, they change their mind.”
Iran has tried to keep its economic situation in check by controlling foreign currency rates and cutting down on those moving their money from the rial to other currencies, including Bitcoin. Last year, the semi-official Mehr news agency quoted Mohammad Reza Pour-Ebrahimi, the head of the Iranian parliament’s economic commission, as suggesting that about $2.5 billion left Iran through digital currency purchases. He did not elaborate and authorities have not discussed it since.
The US, meanwhile, has been keeping a close watch on Iranians holding bitcoins. In November, a federal grand jury in Newark, New Jersey, accused two Iranian men of hacking and holding hostage computer systems of over 200 American entities to extort them for Bitcoin, including the cities of Newark and Atlanta.
“As Iran becomes increasingly isolated and desperate for access to US dollars, it is vital that virtual currency exchanges, peer-to-peer exchangers and other providers of digital currency services harden their networks against these illicit schemes,” said Sigal Mandelker, Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.
Not so, said Jahromi.
“Cybercurrencies are effective in bypassing sanctions when it comes to small transactions, but we do not see any special impact in them as far as mega-transactions are concerned,” he said. “We cannot use them to go around international monetary mechanisms.”