Health Chain Aster Plans $400 Million Bond, India Expansion
Sign of Aster DM Healthcare Ltd. is seen at its store in Kempegowda International Airport, Bengaluru, India. (Source: BloombergQuint)

Health Chain Aster Plans $400 Million Bond, India Expansion

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Aster DM Healthcare Ltd., a Dubai-based operator of hospitals and pharmacies that’s expanding across India, is revisiting a potential sale of dollar bonds after pushing back a planned issuance last year.

Aster, which runs 26 hospitals and hundreds of clinics and pharmacies in the Gulf and India, will seek to issue about $400 million of securities possibly in the next three to six months, according to Chairman Azad Moopen. The notes would mature in seven to eight years, and would retire and replace existing debt.

“We have started discussion with the bankers regarding the bond issue,” Moopen, 68, said in an interview. The firm decided not to go ahead with the sale early last year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, he said.

Read more on Aster’s previous plan

Aster is expanding across India, looking to open at least four hospitals there in the next four years. Moopen wants the South Asian nation of nearly 1.4 billion people to account for about a third of the company’s business, up from a fifth at present. Growth will come from pent-up desire for quality medical services, he said, calling it a “huge demand-supply gap”.

Many Indians resort to out-of-pocket spending on private treatment due to the parlous condition of the country’s state health-care system. India currently spends just 1.28% of gross domestic product on public health, a figure that lags behind the global average and has been described as low by its own planning organization.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised in his first term to raise that number to 2.5% by 2025. In January, after the pandemic exposed urgent shortfalls in public health care, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s federal budget allocated a 137% hike in health spending.

“Our plan is to focus more on India,” Moopen said, adding that the company will build up its tele-medicine, laboratory, and home-care businesses. Aster has only three pharmacies in India at present, but it’s planning an exponential surge to 150 in the next financial year, and a similarly paced expansion every year after that, he said.

Funding for Aster’s expansion drive will come from internal capital and the company doesn’t have any plans to raise funds externally, said Moopen.

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