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Mumbai: Google will acquire a 7.7% stake in Jio Platforms for Rs 33,737 crore, the culmination of a series of global investments that have cumulatively brought more than Rs 1.52 lakh crore ($20 billion) into Reliance Industries’ technology and telecom arm. In future, there will be strategic partnerships in retail and petrochemicals and the energy business that will be overhauled, RIL chairman Mukesh Ambani said.

Ambani said RIL was “truly blessed” to have Google, Facebook and Microsoft as partners, the latter in a separate foray into cloud services.

For Google, this is the “first and biggest investment” from the recently announced $10-billion India fund, CEO Sundar Pichai said. The two companies will jointly develop an operating system for an entry-level smartphone that will support 5G and target India’s 350 million feature-phone users.

The next set of investors is likely to be in RIL’s retail business. “We have received strong interest from strategic and financial investors. We will induct global partners and investors in Reliance Retail in next few quarters,” Ambani said.

Addressing the AGM on Wednesday, Ambani signalled a fundamental change in the conglomerate’s business orientation.

RIL Keen to Work with Saudi Aramco

The RIL chairman indicated that the group will focus on a future of novel digital offerings, clean energy, new materials and high-profile partners such as Google and Facebook, breaking away from the predominantly industrial past where the world’s largest refining complex in Jamnagar dominated the balance sheet with lucrative margins from converting crude oil into fuels.

“Reliance also has proprietary technology to convert transportation fuels into valuable petrochemical and material building blocks. And at the same time, we will replace transportation fuels with clean electricity and hydrogen,” the RIL chairman told shareholders in his speech, in which the younger generation of Ambanis chimed in with details of new digital offerings including JioGlass for 3D interactions and holographic content. Almost 400,000 shareholders were logged into the virtual AGM.

Mukesh Ambani said the investment by Google, along with recent stake purchases by other global investors as well as the rights issue and oil major BP’s investment in the retail joint venture added up to Rs 212,809 crore — far in excess of its net debt of Rs 161,035 crore as on March 31.

But the company is still keen to get the world’s biggest oil producer Saudi Aramco on board in its oil-to-chemicals (O2C) business although there has been a delay. “Due to unforeseen circumstances in the energy market and the Covid-19 situation, the deal has not progressed as per the original timeline,” Ambani said.

He said RIL values its association with Aramco. “Our equity requirements have already been met. Nevertheless, we at Reliance value our over-two-decade long relationship with Saudi Aramco and are committed to a long-term partnership. We will approach NCLT with our proposal to spin off our O2C business into a separate subsidiary to facilitate this partnership opportunity. We expect to complete this process by early 2021,” he said.

SHARES FALL

RIL’s shares fell 6% after the Aramco comment, but recovered to close 3.7% lower at Rs 1845.60 in a flat market.

Ambani said the pandemic had posed challenges globally, but he was bullish about RIL and India. “Never have I felt more optimistic in my life about a bright future for India, and for Reliance,” he said.

Ambani also dedicated the development of Jio’s 5G technology — which was unveiled at the AGM — to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “highly motivating vision” of Atmanirbhar Bharat.

Ambani said RIL would transform its energy business. “We will build an optimal mix of reliable, clean and affordable energy with hydrogen, wind, solar, fuel cells and battery… On successful implementation of this strategy, we target to become net carbon-zero by 2035.”

This would be achieved through a global, collaborative model. “This model envisages a large coalition of global financial investors, reputed technology partners, and startups working on futuristic solutions,” he said.

The company has a 15-year vision to build Reliance as one of the world’s leading companies in new energy and materials, Ambani said. This is a multi-trillion opportunity to make clean energy abundant and affordable in India, he said.

PETROCHEM PARTNERSHIPS

Global companies are also keen on partnerships in the petrochemicals business that includes feedstocks for specialty and new value chains of chemicals such as acetyls, acrylates, phenols and polyurethanes. “Reliance has been approached by global companies for strategic partnerships in its petrochemical business, including in utilising these feedstocks,” Ambani said.

This will help RIL build competitive capacity to serve the deficit Indian market that depends on huge import of chemicals, he said. “With this, we will have an integrated and competitive oil-to-chemicals portfolio which is valuable to global companies as it provides access to the large and growing Indian market.”

Ambani also said RIL was accelerating the rollout of JioMart that will link producers, traders, small merchants, consumer brands and consumers.

“Connecting farmers and delivering their fresh produce directly to homes is a key part of our grocery strategy. This will significantly improve farmer income and incentivise higher productivity.”

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