By Chris Kay
Hospital and pharmacy chain Aster DM Healthcare Ltd. said it would look to acquire private operators to fuel expansion in India after hiving off its Gulf business for $1 billion.
Aster plans to add an additional 1,500 beds to the current 4,800 capacity in the world’s most populous country over the next three years and “look at companies that are not listed, but which have good performance,” Azad Moopen, Aster’s chairman and managing director, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television Thursday.
“We will have firepower,” he said.
Last month, Aster — founded in 1987 from a single clinic in Dubai — announced that it had agreed to sell 65 per cent of its Gulf operations to a group led by Fajr Capital and would use the funds for a dividend payout and expansion.
Aster operates 34 hospitals as well as hundreds of clinics and pharmacies across both India and the Gulf. The firm had been working with advisers for years on a plan to split off its two regional businesses.
The company is now focused on expanding rapidly in India, eyeing a market where more than one-third of India’s 1.4 billion people can afford private healthcare, Moopen said.
India’s hospital industry is witnessing a flood of investor interest and the sector is estimated to have more than doubled in size to $132 billion since 2017, according to a government investment agency.
More than half of Aster’s hospitals are in India, which only accounted for just over a quarter of its revenue. Still, Aster’s compounded annualized growth between 20-25 per cent in the country over the last five years has been “at least three times” more than its Gulf business, said Moopen.
“The Indian market was not valuing the GCC business in the way we thought it would value,” Moopen said. “We had to look at something very drastic.”
Pointing to the company’s Indian listed shares, which have jumped 20 per cent since the deal was announced, Moopen said “the decision was right.”
While Aster’s sale unlocked value as its focus shifts to India, the quantum of a dividend payout from the proceeds as well as a potential shareholder’s exit remain key uncertainties, Mumbai-based JM Financial analyst Jainil Shah said last week.