Reliance to invest billions in Indian petrochemical unit

India's Reliance Industries plans to invest $8 billion to $9 billion over three to four years at its petrochemical and refining complex in the western state of Gujarat, chairman Mukesh Ambani said on Friday.

Reliance, India's most valuable company with a market value of $97 billion, also sees acquisitions and initiatives in agriculture and rural areas as key growth drivers, Ambani told shareholders at the company's annual general meeting.

"Reliance is actively pursuing an acquisition mode of growth," he said, adding it was shifting strategy of building businesses from scratch as it faced intense competition, limited market opportunity and rapid changes in technology.

He said the company would extend its petrochemicals business to high growth markets such as Russia and Egypt.

Its subsidiary Reliance Petroleum's project to build a 580,000 barrels per day refinery at the Jamnagar complex in Gujarat will be completed ahead of schedule by the end of next year, he said.

Ambani said Reliance Industries' paraxylene capacity would jump to 4.5 million tonnes a year from 1.9 million in two phases. Paraxylene is used to make polyester and plastics.

The company is spending about $5.2 billion to develop two gas fields off India's east coast to produce up to 80 million standard cubic metres of gas per day from the second half of 2008 through 2009.

"It [exploration and production] is set to fundamentally transform Reliance's earnings profile," Ambani said.

He said the company's proven and probable reserves from its fields globally were about 4.4 billion barrels of oil equivalent and it had set a target of 10 billion.

Reliance Industries owns eight blocks overseas, including two each in Yemen, Oman and Columbia and one each in East Timor and Australia.

Shares in Reliance Industries touched an all-time high of Rs2,724 but closed 2.4 per cent lower at Rs2,566.85, almost in line with a Mumbai market that dropped 2.1 per cent.

The stock has more than doubled this year, driven in part by hopes for a stock split, traders said. Responding to requests for a bonus or stock split, Ambani said: "We will find a solution to your demand ... that will reward you and see that you continue to remain shareholders."

The company reports its July-September earnings this Thursday.

Ambani said Reliance's retail venture, which had set up 300 stores in 30 cities and employed 6,000 staff, did not threaten small shopkeepers and traders.

Reliance is spending more than $5.5 billion in its retail business but plans have faced protests from small traders, forcing it to shut down some stores. ( Reuters )

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