Birla Wins Grasim Shareholder Approval to Pursue ABNL Merger

  • Deal still subject to approval from ABNL’s shareholders
  • Overhaul would strengthen tycoon’s influence over group

Shareholders of billionaire Kumar Mangalam Birla’s Grasim Industries Ltd. approved plans for the Indian tycoon to pursue a controversial merger that would tighten his grip of a business empire with more than $40 billion in annual revenue.

More than 93 percent of Grasim minority shareholder votes cast were in favor of the plan to merge with affiliate Aditya Birla Nuvo Ltd., according to a statement. ABNL investors are scheduled to vote on the deal by April 9.

The overhaul, which also involves the spinoff of a financial services unit, would help the Birla family increase its influence over the group, whose businesses range from textiles to insulators. It’s a busy time for Birla as he’s in the process of merging his mobile-phone unit with Vodafone Group Plc’s Indian business to form the nation’s largest wireless carrier.

The deal would increase the Birla family’s holding in post-merger Grasim to 39 percent from 31 percent, according to a company presentation.

When Birla proposed combining the two companies in August, investors were spooked. Shares of both Grasim and ABNL tumbled, while brokerages from HSBC Holdings Plc to IDFC Securities Ltd. cut their stock recommendations amid concerns about the rationale of the deal and transfer of debt. Both Grasim and ABNL have since recovered to levels near where they were before the merger announcement.

As for Birla, the tycoon has been pushing the merger by saying the combined entity would have access to more resources to fund expansion in the world’s fastest growing major economy.

It would also build on his penchant for dealmaking. The group last month announced the merger agreement between Idea and Vodafone India and Birla’s UltraTech Cement Ltd. bought cement units from debt-laden Jaiprakash Associates Ltd. last year.

Grasim shares climbed 0.2 percent higher in Mumbai trading at 9:56 am, while ABNL advanced 0.7 percent.

— With assistance by Siddharth Vikram Philip

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