Apollo and Mukesh Ambani’s Reliance plan joint bid for Boots

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India’s second-richest man Mukesh Ambani and US buyout group Apollo Global Management are planning a joint bid for UK high street pharmacy chain Boots, according to people familiar with the matter.

The private equity group is working with Ambani’s Reliance Industries on a bid that if successful, would see one of Britain’s best-known retailers expand its presence into India, south-east Asia and the Middle East.

Both groups would own equity stakes in Boots under the plan, one of the people said, although it is not clear whether their stakes would be the same size. Reliance is India’s largest listed company by market capitalisation and Ambani is the world’s seventh wealthiest man, according to Forbes.

Boots’s US parent Walgreens Boots Alliance put the business up for sale last December to focus on healthcare in its domestic market. It has set a deadline of May 16 for bids, one of the people said.

The sale process, in which the UK chain could potentially be valued at between £5bn and £6bn, has been beset by difficulties.

Market turmoil in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made financing a large leveraged buyout more complicated, and two prominent potential bidders, private equity groups Bain Capital and CVC Capital Partners, have dropped out of the process.

The owners of UK supermarket group Asda, brothers Mohsin and Zuber Issa and private equity group TDR Capital, have also made an initial bid for Boots.

Boots has more than 2,000 stores in the UK, many of which require investment, and gets about 45 per cent of its roughly £6bn in annual revenues from providing services such as prescriptions and vaccinations to the country’s state-run health service.

But its large defined-benefit pension scheme, which is in surplus but not by enough to allow a buyout by an insurer, will probably complicate the sale process.

Apollo declined to comment. Reliance did not immediately respond to a request to comment.

Ambani’s oil-to-telecoms conglomerate Reliance has made several overseas acquisitions, including British toy store Hamleys, but has tended to focus investments on expanding its domestic businesses.

Reliance has recently invested in healthcare companies including genetics group Strand Life Sciences, after buying a majority stake in pharma sales company Netmeds in 2020.

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