Ride-hailing firm Grab agrees to $40bn merger with 'blank cheque' company

Deal will provide the Singapore-based company with $4.5bn in cash and a route to a public listing

FILE - In this July 24, 2017, file photo, a GrabBike driver rides on his motorbike in Jakarta, Indonesia. Southeast Asia’s largest ride-hailing company, Grab Holdings, said Tuesday, April 13, 2021 that it plans to merge with U.S.-based Altimeter Growth Capital in a deal that would value it at nearly $40 billion in preparation for an initial public offering in the U.S. (AP Photo/Tatan Syuflana, File)
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South-East Asia's biggest ride-hailing and food delivery firm, Grab Holdings, agreed to a merger on Tuesday with US-based Altimeter Growth Corporation in a deal that gives Grab an initial equity value of about $39.6 billion and will lead to a public listing.

The merger, the biggest "blank cheque" company deal ever, underscores the frenzy on Wall Street as shell firms have raised $99 billion in the United States so far this year after a record $83 billion in 2020.

Singapore-based Grab's agreement with a special purpose acquisition company backed by Altimeter Capital includes a more than $4bn private investment in public equity by investors including BlackRock, Fidelity International, Janus Henderson Investors and Temasek Holdings.

The offering is led by $750 million from funds managed by Altimeter Capital. The transactions will provide Grab with about $4.5bn in cash proceeds.

Grab said its decision to become a public company was driven by a strong financial performance in 2020, despite the pandemic.

The deals for Grab, which was valued at just over $16bn last year, will be a big win for its early backers such as SoftBank Group and China's Didi Chuxing. The bumper valuation validates Grab's co-founder Anthony Tan's strategy to aggressively tap growth in new sectors and ramp up market share by pumping billions of dollars to localise its services and invest in high-growth economies.

The proposed transactions, which have been approved by the boards of both Grab and Altimeter Growth, are expected to close over the next few months, subject to shareholder approvals

Grab attracted global attention in 2018 when it acquired Uber's South-East Asia business after a costly five-year battle and in return took a stake in the company.

Reuters reported in January that Grab, which has so far raised about $12bn, was exploring a US listing.

Grab's agreed transaction will surpass electric vehicle maker Lucid Motors' $24bn deal struck with a Spac in February.

With operations in eight countries and 398 cities, Grab is already South-East Asia's most valuable start-up.

Leveraging its ride-hailing business that began in 2012, the firm has moved into food and grocery deliveries, courier services, digital payments and is now making a push into insurance and lending in a region of 650 million people.

The listing will give Grab extra firepower in its main market, Indonesia, where local rival Gojek is close to sealing a merger with the country's leading e-commerce business, Tokopedia.

Grab, whose net revenue surged 70 per cent last year, has yet to turn profitable, but it expects its biggest segment – the food delivery business – to break even by the end of 2021, as more consumers shift to online food delivery after the Covid-19 pandemic.

Cash-rich, US-listed Sea is also muscling into food delivery and financial services in Indonesia. Both Grab and Sea won digital bank licences in Singapore last year.