Major Wall Street banks in India raked in their second-highest fee income since the global financial crisis in the first nine months of this year, benefitting from a flurry of private-sector deals despite the coronavirus pandemic.
India has seen a number of multi-billion dollar transactions in 2020 from oil-to-telecom conglomerate Reliance Industries' fundraising efforts to GlaxoSmithKline's sale of its stake in Unilever's Indian business, the country's largest block trade.
Five U.S. banks including Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs earned $170 million in investment banking fees in January-September, the highest for that period since 2018, according to Refinitiv data, putting them on course for one of their most profitable years.
In 2018, those five banks earned $176.5 million in Indian fees in the first nine months of the year, which was the highest for the period since 2007.
It comes as India's economy shrank by nearly a quarter in April-June as the country became one of the worst hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
"This year we are seeing a tremendous interest from international investors across sectors in India – in tech, real estate, financial and consumer sectors," said Dieter Turowski, Asia Pacific investment banking chairman at Morgan Stanley.
"In aggregate, the quantum of capital raising will continue but it'll be more diversified next year. The pipeline is stronger than six months ago."
India saw $16.8 billion of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) in its technology, media, and telecoms (TMT) sector between January and mid-October, up 62% percent from the same time last year, according to Refinitiv data.
The momentum is expected to continue in 2021 when a series of technology companies such as e-commerce firm Flipkart are expected to list domestically or overseas.
Raj Balakrishnan, Bank of America's head of India investment banking, said consumer-tech would be a big deal driver for the country in the near future with more consolidation and initial public offerings (IPOs) to come.
U.S. and European banks received 41.9% of the total investment banking fees earned in India in the first nine months of 2020, up from 37.2% last year, in a highly competitive market with a large number of local rivals.
Some European banks' retreat from the country in recent years has helped Wall Street banks increase the share of fees they earn, bankers said.
Morgan Stanley took home a record $65 million in the first nine months of this year, topping India's M&A league table, thanks to its role as Reliance Industries' financial advisor in the fundraising for its digital and retail units.
Reliance raised over $20 billion from investors including Facebook, Alphabet's Google, KKR and Silver Lake Partners this year, contributing to India' sharp growth in M&A activity in 2020.
Separately, Goldman had earned nearly $30 million in fees this year as of end-September, its highest since 2018, as it got the advisory role on a $7 billion rights issue for Reliance Industries, the largest ever such deal in India.
The lofty returns will be welcomed by foreign investment banks which have long complained in private about the miserly fees they earn on Indian transactions, mainly on state deals.
Goldman Sachs said India was an important and growing market for the bank.
"Continued deal flow will come from financial sponsors, conglomerates strategically redefining and optimising their portfolios, and consolidation in tech and consumer sectors," said Sonjoy Chatterjee, the bank's head of India.