Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The symptom is worse than the disease

So, DLF goes about the mock play – sorry buyback.

Earlier I had concluded that such false bravado is a symptom of DLF management being new to the listed public market. That explains why they try to zig and zag with the price action in the markets. Markets dance to a non-rhythmic rhapsody, not a synchronized symphony. Company managements can't keep pace with it without breaking down. Stock prices may go up or down in public markets, but management’s priority should be effective supervision of operations. By announcing a Rs.1,100 crore buyback when stock prices sag while having plans to raise QIP of Rs.10,000 crore in hardly six months down the line, they betray impulsive overreaction. As I said before, DLF may be a large enterprise; but they lack the maturity required to stay put in that bracket.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Get your act together, IT vendors...!

Readers of this blogstream should be wary of my screams for innovation in India’s IT vending space.

Now here is an analysis that explains why overwhelming focus on one sector – Financial Services – is extremely vulnerable. With the Wall Street turmoil, some of India’s big IT outsourcing vendors face a frosty weather.

I shall repeat. Go beyond BPO, ADM and easily replicable services. Differentiate. Make meaningful dents in diverse high-end fields like system integration, data center management, remote architecture support, process automation coupled with product innovations that stun the markets with their utilities and features.

And…And…And… Focus on domestic market. You’ll be in far better control. See Bharti has awarded its $1 billion IT infrastructure maintenance contract to IBM, not to any of our famed vendors ;-)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

When balls choke up your lungs, hardly can you talk

Candid admission by KKR. Given that the buyout firm has not yet gone public, that frankness is quite refreshing. Yet unusual by Indian PE fund manager standards, huh?
Yet it is. More to follow.

”The lack of credit has materially hindered the initiation of new, large-sized transactions for our private equity segment and, together with declines in valuations of equity and debt securities, has adversely impacted our recent operating results,” KKR said in its SEC filing.
The firm’s total investment loss for the first half of 2008 compared with a total investment profit of $3.4m in the first half of 2007. Its net loss for the 1st half 08 totals $1.1m, compared with a profit of $667.4m for the same period 2007.
KKR, which has made investments in numerous household names such as Toys R Us, mattress maker Sealy and asset manager Legg Mason Inc, said its fee income in the first half of the year was $135.3m, compared with $115.4m a year ago.
Imagine the fate of India investments of PE funds. There is far less swagger in their gait and I hear them talking a lot less these days. When balls choke their lungs, they just can’t talk; let alone getting candid ;-)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Killing I-banks is stifling innovation in structured finance

In a watershed moment, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley last night abandoned their status as independent investment banks (and morphed into larger Universal Banks) in a move marking the end of an era on Wall Street. While the change appears to be a technicality, it means that both banks have equal and permanent rights to access emergency funds from the US central bank, the Federal Reserve – their only lifeline to stay alive. They will also be far more tightly regulated.

Well, in a way the Fed has ruled, though in this late hour of credit crisis, enough is enough. Suddenly I hear all Wall Street honchos, analysts and even erstwhile CEOs of these investment banks publicly admitting that it is the way to go. The era of independent investment banks had to end – as it has, now.

I look back a bit. Is it so simple? Isn’t it a bit ironic that the time-tested business models of the independent I-banks have suddenly become unviable? Were they inherently weak or has it been the lack of prudence that did them in? Or is it the lack of oversight and the unfettered, excessive leverage in ratios of 33:1 to blame?
Specialists are specialists. They will have to stay that way. Can someone bring cardiology, a specialized domain under general practitioners because a few recent heart surgeries performed by cardiologists have failed?

I have a feeling they are prescribing the wrong medicine for the illness. What do they want, United Socialist States of America?
The USSR brand of socialism failed because it was founded on anarchist theory – everybody’s property became nobody’s responsibility. Amercian free market economy is based on greed that is just human instinct like lust, envy or anger. They implore one to beat competition and excel. They are creative spurs, not unsystematic or anarchist self-serving socialist wet blankets.
Get local. A Tata Steel ranked 65th in the global steel industry could acquire a Corus (ranked 5th) because of the liquidity provided by those enabling models. Now it’s going to be a slog all the way for the ambitious. This is like turning off the tap on growth when all that was needed was enforcing stricter compliance by a bunch of alert regulators. There is a strong case for these I-Banks to remain independent for the global economic engine to keep purring. The leverage that provided liquidity to help the poor afford homes is not entirely a bad idea. The level of social benefits that it entailed is not to be easily forgotten. The fault lay in promotion of fallacies like the house prices will always rise. Blame it on running poor credit checks on borrowers and allowing reckless leverage models. At best, are they not simple process lacunae? More importantly, haven't they been emitting strong enough signals for the Fed and SEC to reign them in, which they chose not to? Isn't it something that can happen even now, under Universal Banking? You agree?

I-banking as a division of another commercial bank will sure lose focus, its innovative drive and finesse. It can never be as nimble if it is burdened with the yoke of reserve requirements and Credit-Deposit ratios. It will lead to sub-optimal performance and deals won't get done in the same pace, at least. It will certainly fail to attract the best brains that can thrive only in a liberal, innovative ecosystem that spurs creativity and ingenuity. Can we make do with Levi Strauss type archaic regimes devoid of dynamic innovative spirit? Can we honestly say we never need structured finance innovations (imagine the convenience of a `sale and lease back’ and other factoring mechanisms) with changing times and dynamic business needs? That would be pure tactlessness wearing the masks of precautionary excesses. Just not up.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

We're easily the most resilient amongst BRIC

Are we the best amongst BRIC?

Here is the update on the stock markets of Brazil, Russia and China. I think comparatively India is far better.

In Brazil, yield spreads of Brazil's government overseas bonds over comparable U.S. Treasuries, as measured by JPMorgan's EMBI+ index, widened sharply, reflecting an increase in investors' risk aversion toward Brazilian assets. The index 11EMJ showed the country's bond spread widened by 39 points to 349, the highest since November 2005.

In Russia, Government and central bank officials were locked in talks with the chief executives of Russia’s biggest investment banks throughout most of the day on ways to halt the market collapse, which has wiped nearly $800bn off the country’s stock exchanges in a matter of months and sent stocks spinning down to levels last seen in 2005. The two main bourses, the MICEX and RTS, had suspended stock trading until further notice from the state’s main financial regulator.

China? Please don’t ask. Here is a report from Epoch Times I had linked above -

“The truth about China’s stock market is actually not a secret, and most investors probably already knew it. That is, China’s stock market is a tool used by the government to re-distribute and re-organize social wealth on a grand scale, which means that it is a tool to clean out Chinese people’s savings accounts. The biggest winners in this process are, of course, government officials and their relatives who are the most well-informed about the actual value and re-organizing plans of those that control state wealth; as well as institutional investors who collaborate with them and who rely on insider tips to control the stock market. Those people have already made huge fortunes in the process. This is the truth about China’s stock market….

Actually, the goal of China’s stock market was not purely an economic one when it as originally established. When former Premier Zhu Rongji set up stock market in Shenzhen, he said that China’s stock market was meant to get money--to get money in the market and give it to companies that were unable to get money, and because these companies were unable to make money, they needed monetary support.

China’s stock market has been established to operate like an ATM for the listed companies. For the majority of the listed companies, economic reform is nothing but a mechanism to trap money. Many heavily indebted State-owned companies have been listed in the stock market after re-packaging. All of a sudden, they become the new stars in the market with easy loans and finance. The foundation of a stock market is the listed companies. With a weak foundation, how can any high stock price be affordable? The deflation in stock prices is therefore predictable.”

So, India - is far better any day. We just have 12% plus inflation and some high interest rates. There is no sham in the system, the companies are real and investors are long term. Stay invested if it is your personal savings and not borrowed funds. We're in for some not so quick turnaround - to allow the dust to settle around the world. As for savvy global investors, it seems to be their only emerging market bastion that's left...


Doctors failed to diagnose own symptoms

A.V.Rajawade makes some intuitive statements on the Wall Street fiasco. The best I quote
“…With total assets of $640 billion, [Lehmann Brothers] would be the largest ever bankruptcy filing in history. Those who charged millions of dollars as fees for advice on restructuring or selling others’ businesses could not manage to save their own…”
I concur. I have been way too immersed in the I-Banking sector to refute that. I know their mediocre and credentialist ways. In the PE world, mediocrity just rules the roost.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Dreamworks - high on ideas, low on fuel

The much hyped deal between Steven Spielberg’s Dreamworks and ADAG’s Reliance Big Entertainment now rests at the mercy of JP Morgan Chase.

Although Reliance is poised to invest $500 million in the venture for a 50% ownership stake, that deal hinges on the group getting a firm guarantee from lead bank JPMorgan Chase to raise up to $700 million in debt financing to satisfy the business plan to make four to six movies a year. JPMorgan, which will not underwrite the entire portion of the loan as DreamWorks had hoped, will now attempt to syndicate it -- and that could take months.

Did you say months? That soon? Given the turbulence in the wall street, Spielberg will not have many options that are not already underwater.

Crude breaches $100; So what?

Quoting at $98.49 a barrel, crude violates the $100 psychological level. Since crude surged to a record $147.27 a barrel on July 11, it has tumbled by over $40, or more than 27 percent. Still, prices remain close to 14 percent higher this year than in 2007, and a barrel of benchmark crude still fetches four times what it did five years ago.

Now hang on, don’t rush to the gas stations. The dollar has breached Rs.45/- level, so you pay almost the same in dollar terms, pal ! Mukesh Ambani’s mole in cabinet has already sounded you out ;-)

Way to go, Guv

Is it upstart flamboyance or anticipatory bail application? I am not too sure as I read into RBI guv D.Subbarao’s statements barely three days into office.

While sticking to 8% growth peg (bravo!), he uses terms like “mathematical inevitability” – now what does that mean? Does he believe the economy could outwit slowdown advocates or does he swear by the efficacy of statisticians at his disposal to bring up that magic number or does he put the onus on the fickleness of number games?

Early days anyway. But he did mention “shared responsibility of RBI and all other regulators” – now that’s an inclusive statement. Even if his faith in the economy (or his statisticians) holds out or not, he will not take it in his chin, alone.

Can’t think of a better way to begin the innings ;-)

Monday, September 08, 2008

Wait until they mop up

More on DLF buyback.

Realty and infrastructure is a capital intensive industry that is badly mauled by the global liquidity crunch. With demand for high end luxury homes and commercial complexes waning, the focus is on low margin budget buildouts. Even as realty companies conserve every rupee they can to meet the resources crunch, DLF worried about the falling share price (down by more than 50% from its peak of Rs.1225 in Jan 08) and announced a Rs.11 billion buyback (at price not exceeding Rs.600/- a share) to reassure itself and its minority investors.

Now is that a wise decision at this crunch time? As a long term shareholder I can’t care less. Know why? This whole buyback exercise is a temporary prop. Remember what happened to Ranbaxy stock recently? Even institutional shareholders like LIC and GIC tendered their entire holdings in the offer and the stock fell to Rs.450 levels from Rs.580 post buyback. So if you are a long term investor and want to pick up asset rich DLF cheaply, just wait for the mop up exercise to be over. Even after a recent downgrade, Deutsch Global values DLF NAV at Rs.532 a share.

Not bad. The news is that after the statutory cooling period of six months (for fresh capital issues) is over, DLF has plans to raise Rs.10,000 crore by way of private placements. When the market knows this, the buyback offer is just false bravado... The problem is DLF may be a sizeable enterprise; but its management is new to public markets behavior. So when the stock price falls because of market's general indifference towards the realty sector, DLF management is overreacting.
They too will learn...!

Sunday, September 07, 2008

"Follow the money"

When you have almost three-fourth of the world economies reeling under trade deficits and hyper inflation, companies like Nokia issuing profit warnings, it’s time to explore alternative destinations to do business. After all, the dictum is – follow the money :-)

I was recently part of the team that did some early due diligence for a Korean firm interested in issuing Islamic bonds in the Persian Gulf and far east. Yes, Islamic bonds. But why should a Korean major drool over religion tainted security? The question was not for us to ask, they were paying us. But as we delved deep into the task, a few facts got cleared.

Sharia-compliant mortgages are typically structured so that the lender itself buys the property and then leases it out to the borrower at a price that combines a rental charge and a capital payment. At the end of the mortgage term, when the price of the property has been fully repaid, the house is transferred to the borrower. That additional complexity does not just add to the direct costs of the transaction, but can also fall foul of legal hurdles. Since the property changes hands twice in the transaction, an Islamic mortgage is theoretically liable to double stamp duty. So how do we structure it?

Confidence is one thing, hyperbole another. Most of all, the industry’s expansion is tempered by its need to address the tensions between its two purposes: to serve God and to make as much money as it can. We faced difficulties in design and structuring an instrument that has to comply with Sharia – that needed to be communicated to the client, a non-muslim. Hell, it needs to be certified not by a professional rating agency, but by Islamic scholars that are terribly in short supply! So we struck a deal with some American financiers that recycle documentation rather than drawing it up from scratch. But to our amazement, we found something pretty weird. The contracts they now use for sharia-compliant mortgages in America draw on templates originally drafted at great cost for, hmmm… no, you would never guess it - aircraft leases!

And we thought we have to refine our systems and processes to adapt to a changing financial world order. But there are imperfections and mediocrity galore even in the most credentialistic circles. That knowledge allows us enough headroom for creative neglect and recreation. We could even be setting trends with what we seek to build. Now we are all charged up. Someone is paying us too.

Why do you think I love this business? I am on my way, getting to be a Sharia specialist ;-)

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Rip the control freaks; they ran out of arguments

Nice argument in Business Standard editorial seeking sugar decontrol.
Why should the cabinet put on hold the proposal to free up sugar supplies by the food and consumer affairs ministry? What are its concerns?

Do they fear rise in sugar prices fueling inflation that is already high? Think again. The 11 million ton carry over from last year’s record production covers 55% of our annual consumption of 20 million tons. Even if the acreage under cultivation drops, it’s absurd to assume that it would drop over 45% - especially at a time when sugar is turning a multi-use crop needed for production of ethanol and even power generation beyond just sugar and alcohol. Decontrol in fact, allows sugar mills to press more supplies from the buffer stock into the market that will help push the prices further down, not up.

Will decontrol make PDS sugar costlier because state governments will have to buy from open market when levy is abolished? Not at all - since the proposal recommends central government to compensate the state governments by subsidies that was so far being borne unjustly by the sugar producers instead of the government. It will also eliminate the arbitrary price determination by central /state governments that often doesn’t consider market realities and result in expensive litigation.

I add one more point. How long can governments mask economic realities? Prices crash during times of over production and will creep back up when there is a shortage. It happens with Gold, Steel, Cement, Paper and all commodities. Any attempt to artificially control prices will only lead to manipulation and corruption. Why have the illusion of control and not just let go? We had controlled petrol, diesel, fertilizers and sugar and still we got a double digit inflation. So why harp on to something that is fast running out of arguments?


Wednesday, September 03, 2008

SIP for Land acquisition...?

And you thought small investors learn from big investors. Well for major corporates in Real Estate it seems to be the other way round.

DLF is setting up a Land Acquisition Fund – by transferring 15% from its annual revenues to its corpus to avail of any good buying opportunity – akin to Systematic Investment Plan (SIP) often recommended to small investors for buying mutual fund units every month. The advantage being, a small investor need not time the market and can take advantage of market at every level by investing fixed sums of money every year.

Good idea? What do you think? Next what? Pay STT and gain LT capital gains exemption?

Tight rope walk

Bolstered by the initial success of its bid to acquire UK-based Imperial Energy, state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Ltd (ONGC) is planning to list its wholly-owned overseas exploration subsidiary ONGC Videsh Ltd (OVL) sometime in 2009. Well, the aims are clear – to get a premium valuation from international markets, build up its net worth (share premium stands credited to General Reserves can be capitalized through bonus issues to existing shareholders later - helps expand paid up capital) besides gaining acquisition currency.

But being registered in India, regulations require a domestic float before an overseas one.

Except that there is one hitch. The Indian government will be itching to use its revenues to subsidize the loss suffered by state owned oil marketing companies (like it does with ONGC) that sell petro products at a steep loss – to keep it affordable for the masses. No government ever had the guts to say `No' to subsidies so far. Now if OVL is listed abroad, will those foreign shareholders like their company to subsidize oil guzzling Indian masses? Will they understand APL – BPL divide? Looks like a tightrope walk. OVL will have a tough time convincing Indian government why it can’t subsidize India’s oil marketing companies and conversely will have it stiff explaining why it should support Indian government’s efforts in controlling oil price parity while on roadshows that precede the IPO.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Resurgere surge - stock in play?

Resurgere mines (RESU.BO: Quote, Profile, Research) IPO debut took my breath away.

Coming at a time when bearish overtones rule, the miniscule 4-4.5 million shares offered in this IPO received bids of about 1.2 times. A very lukewarm response. In normal conditions one would call it a “scrape through”. Debut listing price was also at a very marginal premium of Rs.2/- (i.e. Rs 272.05) on the BSE, over its issue price of Rs 270. No marked bidding frenzy was observed when the book was open. QIB had bid for 1.3 times and HNI about 2.4 times. Retail turned their back on it with just 0.4 times. CRISIL had assigned a '1/5' grade to the offering, citing the management's limited track record in the iron ore business and the fact that the company's financial returns are vulnerable to spot price movements of iron ore.

Normally such dubious issues begin to slide post listing or just maintain price levels. But this was not to be. What happened later was astounding.

Within minutes of listing yesterday, the scrip touched a high of Rs 299 and over 3 lakh shares exchanged hands. The share price surge in a weak market at record volumes - 33 million shares on the BSE - raised eyebrows given the low rating and cautious brokerage. It closed at a whopping Rs.524, a premium of about 100% on day 1. Today the scrip rose by another 20% and hit the upper circuit to close at Rs.625.

Clear signs of something-wrong-somewhere. But not enough for SEBI to sit up and take notice. May be, we should wait for a couple years for CBI to ferret out the rot, well after the smarts have pasted it on unsuspecting investors that might get caught in the wild dance...

Monday, September 01, 2008

The leftist misfit

In Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, the progressive Chief Minister of WB, we get to see a helpless reformist that doesn’t enjoy the support of his party colleagues.

After Mamata Banerjee, the Trinamool Congress leader managed to stop work on Tata Nano project at Singur, now it’s the turn of real estate major DLF to push the CM with “act-fast-or-else-we-move-out” language. DLF has plans to develop 4840 acres at Dankuni, 20 kilometres from Kolkata at a cost of Rs.330 billion. It has paid Rs.2.7 billion to the state government as advance, but only 20 acres have been acquired so far.

Recently while meeting corporate leaders in WB, to a question on “government-sponsored bandhs” and “Opposition-sponsored bandhs,” the Chief Minister replies: “I do not support any bandh. I agree it is not helping anyone...But unfortunately as I belong to one party and they call a strike, I keep mum.”

Then he added, to loud applause: “But I have finally decided that next time I will open my mouth.” Woof! This is spunk.

Could this be the man the WB can afford to disgruntle? It’s difficult to make up our minds who has erred in this whole drama. Have the govt. acted in haste in allowing these industries to acquire farm lands of poor farmers? Have they not been offered the right prices? Have the jobs offered in these projects adequately compensated for the loss of farm income for those land owners? And finally, what else does Mamata want?

Buddha is too right to remain a leftist misfit. Mamata didi looks more left than right. She should join the Left and Buddha should leave WB and head for Gujarat, Maharashtra or other industry friendly states if he wishes to feel welcomed (Read “CPI(M) distances itself from Buddhadeb's remarks “ topic)

That is commitment

43 years with L&T, 33 years in the same house and 15 in his first boss' room - constance defines the man A.M.Naik, Chairman and MD of L&T, who's building much of India's infrastructure.

“L&T is my hobby, the rest is work,” he says in this interview.

His post retirement plans include moving to an apartment near L&T’s Powai factory so that “when I die, I’ll be facing L&T”.

That is some commitment quite!!! Remember Naik is a professional CEO, L&T not being his family business…

Smart Cricket

Rajasthan Royals won the DLF IPL cricket tournament is old story. Now the champions are going public – not with their fame, with private placement and further on the stock markets with an IPO!

In January this year, Rajasthan Royals, the only foreign-owned team (investors include Lachlan Murdoch, son of Rupert Murdoch) among the eight IPL franchisees, made a bid for $67 million for the team, the lowest among all the DLF IPL teams. Led by Shane Warne, the Royals won the tournament. Reportedly the only team that is in the black — first-year expenses were estimated at $20 million and revenues are in the same range.

Wonder what other franchisees that are still licking wounds feel as they read this…