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Why Tencent Holdings Invested in an Indian Food-Delivery Start-Up

By Nicholas Rossolillo – Updated Apr 12, 2019 at 6:41PM

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E-commerce is growing in importance in the world’s second-most-populous country.

Check out the latest Tencent Holdings earnings call transcript.

Chinese social media and video game giant Tencent Holdings (TCEHY 2.77%) is upping its bet on India. The company recently joined a funding round led by South African tech conglomerate Naspers (NASDAQOTH: NPSNY) in making a $1 billion investment in Indian food-delivery service Swiggy. The fast-developing country has attracted quite a bit of attention the last couple of years, and Tencent is among those leading the charge.

Economic development, eating out, and where Swiggy fits in

As economies develop around the world, the resulting increase in wealth and expansion of the middle class often leads to an increase in eating out. That is apparently the case with India, which was the fastest-growing major economy with a 7.3% GDP increase in 2018, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Indicative of that trend is food-delivery app Swiggy, which has quickly grown to be the country's largest by far in the short four-year span since its founding in 2014. Swiggy works in a fashion similar to U.S.-based Grubhub. Diners can search for restaurants in their area that utilize the Swiggy platform to get a meal delivered to them. The app boasts thousands of restaurants in over 60 cities in India.

The app's quick expansion has attracted funding from Naspers a few times in the last two years -- it contributed $660 million of the $1 billion to Swiggy this go-around -- and now Tencent wants in, too. India has been an investment focus of many investors the last few years as the country continues to advance, especially in the areas of technology and e-commerce, and Tencent is making sure it can participate.

Hands holding a smartphone and pressing a red order button.

Image source: Getty Images.

Tencent the grand investor

China's Tencent has been quickly increasing its exposure outside of the Chinese economy. The company's WeChat social network and one-stop digital entertainment platform have been driving results the last few years, but as the Chinese economy slows, the company has been boosting its investment in other areas like cloud computing and looking for new avenues abroad. As of the end of the third quarter 2018, Tencent's "investments in associates" had increased 88% since the end of 2017, to $31.2 billion, using the renminbi-to-U.S.-dollar exchange rate of 0.15 at the time of this writing.

Those investments include stakes in India's largest e-commerce platform, Flipkart, which Walmart took a controlling stake in early in 2018; India's ride-sharing start-up Ola; education technology outfit Byju's; and social network app ShareChat. Tencent is apparently on an ongoing search to make smaller investments in Indian start-ups on top of the estimated $1.5 billion reported by Indian newspaper Economic Times in the spring of 2018.

The goal is to get in on the fast-growing Indian economy early and build a network of technology partners to support Tencent's international aspirations. The restaurant industry is highly competitive and carries low profit margins, but food delivery? That could be a good fit with Tencent's social, entertainment, and gaming tech roots.

Nicholas Rossolillo and his clients own shares of Tencent Holdings. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Tencent Holdings. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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