Stark contrasts in creation of value - Straight from the Hip by J Mulraj
Investing in India - Straight from the Hip by J Mulraj
Stark contrasts in creation of value A  A  A

23 JUNE 2008

Last week we saw sale of promoter's stake in Ranbaxy, India's largest generic pharma company, to Dii Ichi Sankyo of Japan. Ranbaxy, set up in 1961, was valued at $ 8.5 b. in the deal. During a prior week I had attended the analyst meet of Punjab National Bank, which, after 119 years, has grown to become the largest but one (after SBI) public sector bank. It is a well managed bank with healthy financials. But after 119 years, it is valued at $3.6 b., less than half the valuation Ranbaxy, a private company, achieved in 47 years, which is less than half the time.

Okay, one may say it is in a different line of business. Fair comment. Compare ICICI Bank, with a market cap. of $ 22 b. with SBI, at $ 21b. Now SBI is no ordinary bank. It has a 200 year history and has an unbeaten record of uninterrupted dividend history for over 150 years, testimony to its financial strength and good management. With such a long history of success, why is it valued at one twentieth the value of China's ICBC, with a market cap of over $ 450b. HDFC Bank, at $ 10.5b. is nearly 3 times PNB.

In oil and gas sector, Reliance Industries, also set up in 60s, has a valuation of $ 80 b., larger than that of ONGC, at $ 45b. even though ONGC has excellent financials. Take telecom. Bharti, an upstart, has a market value of $ 40 b. whilst MTNL, an erstwhile monopoly, is only $ 1.5b.

The reason is obvious to all but those in Government who are in denial of true facts. Government treats public sector companies as milch cows, irrespective of the fact that they have minority shareholders. ONGC is valued where it is because it has to bear a huge subsidy bill for petro products. Regrettably, most of this subsidy goes to people who don't deserve to be subsidised, such as car owners for petrol, truck owners for diesel, the mafia who adulterate diesel with kerosene, for kerosene, and restaurants for LPG cylinders. ONGC, Oil India and GAIL pay the bill, but are still very profitable. IOC, HPCL and BPCL also pay the bill, and have been bankrupted.

There was a joke about the Chairman of a company asking his finance manager why their company's share price was half that of their competitors when their performance and profitability was the same. A month later it had caught up, so he called in the finance manager, complimented him and asked him how he had achieved it. The manager said he had just spread a rumour...that the Chairman had resigned!

One thinks that if the Government were to resign from these companies they would be doing the companies and themselves a favour. But the disinvestment process is stuck, like a lot of other necessary and sensible reforms, in the quagmire of a failed politics.

The Government did not take the necessary and sensible decisions to hike petro product prices in line with rising oil prices, to sell companies which they have demonstrably failed to manage (look at the valuation differentials), and a whole host of other things, because of politics. The argument was that taking tough but necessary decisions would cost it votes in the next election.

Well, election time is near. Do they now think that subsidised petro product consumers are going to vote for them en masse? Why, then, have they spent Rs 200,000 crores a year subsidising them when a better targeting of subsidies to the needy would have probably cost less than a fifth of the amount?

Do they think farmers are going to vote for them when they continue to reel under inadequate financing, lack of fertiliser and unfair product pricing? Unlikely. Why, then, did they incur some Rs 100,000 crores on subsidising one bit of fertiliser, viz. urea. How much of this has gone to absentee farmers from Punjab and Haryana enjoying tax free income in Canada?

It is easy to spend money, but the spend must result in a gain in productivity. For example if a Government employs, say, 1 lac people, paying them Rs 100 to dig a hole, and another 1 lac, paying them Rs 100 to fill it, GDP will grow by Rs 2 crores without any increase in the nation's productivity. Such spending thus results in increasing money supply, hence inflation, without increasing the economy's ability to compete. Inflation has now hit 11%.

Not that the PM and his officials do not know all this; they have been hobbled by survival politics subjugating revival economics.

Investors know all this too, and react to it by selling shares. FIIs continued their selling last week, except on Tuesday, causing the market, which seemed to be rallying till Tuesday, to collapse. The BSE sensex ended the week at 14571, down 618 points. The NIFTY ended the week at 4347, down 170 points.

The market is at a crucial level. If it goes significantly below 14500, the sensex would then look for support at around 12,500. What are the factors that investors need to look out for.

Basically it is how domestic politics shapes up; next week there is a crucial meeting between the Government and its Left allies (is that the correct word?) over the nuclear deal with the US. There is no more time for waffling over this. If the Left continues to be obdurate and prefers to withdraw support, the 14,500 level can crack. Investors do not like political uncertainty and the withdrawal would lead to early elections. If, however, Mulayam supports the Government, it can survive and the nuclear deal can make progress. The market will rally sharply.

Added to this is the likelihood of a fall in global oil prices. A lot of the price rise in oil is now speculative with too much money chasing it. It is not a mismatch of demand and supply; in fact there are a lot of full oil tankers whose cargo cannot find buyers.

In USA consumption of petrol is likely to fall for the first time in 17 years, simply because prices of petrol have been raised. South East Asian countries like Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia have raised prices 30-40%. They are not, perhaps, hobbled by 'allies' or maybe their political leaders have the necessary anatomical parts ours don't.

So the next week is crucial. Since it involves trying to predict political behaviour it is anybody's guess.

Have you read the latest Honest Truth by Ajit Dayal?

J Mulraj is a stock market columnist and observer of long standing. His weekly column on stock markets has run for over 27 years. An MBA from IIM Calcutta, he has been a member of the BSE. He is Conference Head - India, for Euromoney. A keen observer of events and trends, he writes in a lucid yet readable style and takes up issues on behalf of the individual investor. Nothing pleases him more than a reader who confesses having no interest in stock markets yet being a reader of his columns. His other interests include reading, both fiction and non-fiction, bridge, snooker and chess.

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