Grab’s $40-billion Nasdaq debut to set tone for Southeast Asian tech listings

December 2, 2021 - 10:01 PM
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Grab Philippines
(Grab Philippines photo)
  • Grab lists on Thursday after $40 bln deal with Altimeter
  • Debut marks biggest U.S. listing by a Southeast Asian firm
  • Early backers SoftBank, Didi set for payday bonanza
  • Bell-ringing ceremony to be held in Singapore
  • Southeast Asia’s internet economy to double to $360 bln by 2025 (Adds quotes, analysis, details)

SINGAPORE — Grab, Southeast Asia’s biggest ride-hailing and delivery firm, makes its market debut on Thursday after a record $40 billion merger with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC), in a listing that will set the tone for other regional offerings.

The backdoor listing on Nasdaq marks the high point for the nine-year-old Singapore company that began as a ride-hailing app and now operates across 465 cities in eight countries, offering food deliveries, payments, insurance and investment products.

The biggest U.S. listing by a Southeast Asian company follows Grab‘s April agreement to merge with U.S. tech investor Altimeter Capital Management’s SPAC, Altimeter Growth Corp and raise $4.5 billion, including $750 million from Altimeter.

There is scope for many players in the fragmented food delivery and financial services markets in Southeast Asia, a region of 650 million people, but the road to profitability could be a long one, analysts say.

Grab‘s flotation “will provide a bigger cash buffer” to its “cash burn”, S&P Global Ratings said in a note. But the company’s “credit quality continues to be constrained by its loss-making operations, and free operating cash flows could be negative over the next 12 months.”

Southeast Asia’s internet economy is forecast to double to $360 billion in gross merchandise value by 2025, prompting Grab‘s rivals, including regional internet firm Sea Ltd and Indonesia’s GoTo Group, to bulk up.

GoTo plans a local IPO in 2022 after completing an expected $2 billion private fundraising, sources have told Reuters. A U.S. listing will follow the Jakarta offering.

“Longer term, we’re really excited about Grab Financial Group,” a unit of the company, said Chris Conforti, partner at Altimeter Capital. “I think the bell curve on that is much wider in terms of what the outcome could be, but it could be extremely large.”

Bonanza for backers

Grab was founded by Anthony Tan, its chief executive, and Tan Hooi Ling, who developed the firm from an idea for a Harvard Business School venture competition in 2011. The two Tans are not related.

CEO Tan, 39, expanded Grab into a regional operation with a range of services, after launching it as a taxi app in Malaysia in 2012. It later moved its headquarters to Singapore.

“What we have shown to the world is that home grown tech companies can develop great technology that can compete globally, even when international players are in town,” Tan told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday. “We can compete and win.”

He will end up with 60.4% voting rights along with Grab‘s co-founder, and president Ming Maa, but control only 3.3% stake with them.

To mark the New York listing, Grab and Nasdaq will hold a bell-ringing in a luxury hotel in Singapore in the middle of the Asian night. About 250 people, including executives from the exchange, Grab‘s investors and other partners are to attend.

Grab‘s listing brings a payday bonanza to early backers such as Japan’s SoftBank and Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing, which invested as early as 2014.

They were later joined by the likes of Toyota Motor Corp , Microsoft Corp and Japanese megabank MUFG . Uber became a Grab shareholder in 2018 after selling its Southeast Asian business to Grab following a five-year battle.

In September, Grab cut its full-year adjusted net sales forecasts, citing renewed uncertainty over pandemic curbs on movement.

Third-quarter revenue fell 9% from a year earlier and its adjusted loss before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortisation (EBITDA) widened 66% to $212 million. GMV in the quarter rose to a record $4 billion.

It aims to turn profitable on an EBITDA basis in 2023.

JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley were the lead placement agents on the fundraising, while Evercore and UBS were the co-placement agents. — Reporting by Anshuman Daga and Aradhana Aravindan; Editing by Edmund Blair, Stephen Coates and William Mallard