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Warren Buffett Agrees on Backing India's Paytm

Saritha Rai
Warren Buffett, chairman and chief executive officer of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., speaks at the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Summit in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Berkshire Hathaway Inc. has agreed to buy a stake in the company behind Paytm, India’s biggest digital payments brand, in Warren Buffett’s first foray into the country’s startups, people familiar with the matter said.

Buffett is set to acquire 3 to 4 percent of One97 Communications Ltd., valuing the target at more than $10 billion, the people said, asking to not be identified as the discussions are private. A formal announcement could come in the next few days, the people said.

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One97 Communications, founded by billionaire Vijay Shekhar Sharma, runs the Paytm brand and is the leading player in India’s booming digital payments market. Buffett would join a star-studded group who have invested in Sharma’s companies, including Masayoshi Son’s SoftBank Group Corp. and Jack Ma’s Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and Ant Financial.

One97 declined to comment while Omaha, Nebraska-based Berkshire Hathaway didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment outside U.S. business hours. Mint reported on talks for a deal earlier on Monday.

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One97 owns 49 percent of Paytm Payments Bank, which leads India’s digital payments market. Online retailer Paytm Ecommerce Pvt, also founded by Sharma, shares the brand name with One97 and runs the online retail platform Paytm Mall, selling everything from smartphones to fashion.

India’s digital payments segment is forecast to reach $1 trillion by 2023, from about $200 billion now, according to Credit Suisse Group AG.

The Buffett investment comes as some critics say India’s startup scene has the makings of a bubble after recent multibillion-dollar investments.

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