Reliance Industries indicated that it would use a $28bn war chest for acquisitions.
The move signals that India’s largest companies are shrugging off global credit market concerns and looking to continue their overseas takeover drive.
Reliance, India’s largest private sector company with operations in petrochemicals, oil, gas and retailing, is also open to partnerships with foreign groups, chairman Mukesh Ambani said on Friday, marking a departure from the group’s previous strategy of going it alone.
The company’s shareholdings in subsidiaries and other liquid assets, together worth $28bn, and its investment-grade credit position “will give Reliance the ability to pursue both organic and inorganic growth opportunities of significant scale and size”, he said.
His comments at the company’s annual meeting follow a stock market boom that has placed him within reach of becoming the richest Indian as foreign investors pour money into the largest stocks on the Bombay Stock Exchange.
His 47 per cent beneficial stake in Reliance Industries and other investments are today worth nearly $50bn.
Mr Ambani did not give details of potential takeover targets but said Reliance had already begun looking overseas with the recent acquisition of polyester assets in Malaysia and a downstream oil business in Africa. Reliance Industries was in talks with Dow Chemical this year.
A banker familiar with the company said Reliance needed to target a European or US refinery to give it access to developed markets for its oil products.
“They have to buy something in the west because that’s where they need to be,” the banker said.
Reliance is building what will become the world’s largest refinery complex in the western Indian city of Jamnagar in a project in which Chevron holds a small stake.
By March 2009, Reliance is to begin gas production at its Krishna Godavari Basin gas field, the output of which will be equivalent to half a million barrels of crude oil a day, or 30 per cent of India’s present oil imports.
Mr Ambani said Reliance plans to invest $4bn in oil and gas exploration “in the coming years”.
He said the company wanted to increase proved and probable gross gas reserves from 4.4bn barrels of oil equivalent to 10bn boe.
But he also acknowledged problems with the group’s campaign to roll out a national retail chain, which has met sometimes violent resistance from groups representing small shopkeepers.
In Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, the group has been forced to put its plans on hold.
“Transformational initiatives always come with some challenges,” he said.
Mr Ambani said the group had already rolled out 300 stores in 30 cities in just under a year. “It is my conviction that the organised retailing initiative will gain momentum once the benefits are fully understood,” he said.
Get alerts on Energy sector when a new story is published