Apr 28, 2009

Indian Media Scam - Private Treaties

By now you must have read about the Pyramid Saimira Scam. For the starters the story goes something like this. The promoters of the company, PS Saminathan and Nirmal Kotecha wanted to offload their stake in this company. So they conspired with the Assistant Editor of ‘Economic Times’ Rajesh Unnikrishnan to jack up the prices and demand of the stock so that they could offload it.

Together with this senior journalist promoters published reports on December 21 and 22, 2008 that SEBI had ordered Promoters to make an open offer for an additional 20 per cent stake in Pyramid at a price not less than Rs 250 per share within 14 days, for allegedly violating creeping acquisition norms. At that time the stock was trading at Rs 60. Following more recommendations from the journalist the stock shot up since promoters were to buy a Rs 60 stock at Rs 250 everybody started buying. The promoters and Economic Times Asst Editor were laughing all the way to the bank as they offloaded huge stake in the company.

But SEBI was surprised. Following investigations, SEBI found that the forgery was done to manipulate the stock price of PSTL and Nirmal Kotecha was one of the major beneficiaries and Economic Times Editor connived in this. All have been debarred from trading.

I never trusted promoters and offloading their stake always bothers me. But I am more surprised by the role that Assistant Editor of Economic Times played in this whole scam. Come-on we read this business daily. Should we no more trust on what it says? If as an investor you look forward to it for unbiased comments on the companies then sorry, Times Group papers is the wrong place.

You should know about the Times Group ‘Private Treaties’ service. Private Treaties is a pact between the Times of India group and approximately 100-odd companies, under which Times Group buys shares of some small companies. The list is expanding rapidly. The share purchase money is immediately taken back against the promise of guaranteed advertising in Group publications—to build the investee company’s brand(s). So for Times Group to gain from appreciation in stock value the brands have to be built, so there has to be the positive coverage on the companies always.

Unfortunately Pyramid Saimira Ltd.was also a Private Treaties client of Times Group. The name still appears on the clientlete list on their website. Check at www.timesprivatetreaties.com/portfolio/list-as-per-industry.html

MoneyLIFE, a website has in its possession a document to prove that Time group journalists are being designated as “champions” for Private Treaties clients to tailor editorial coverage to enhance the value of these companies and Times group investment.

An e-mail by The Economic Times editor Rahul Joshi (dated 29-Nov-2007) says:

“At ET, we are carving out a separate team to look into the needs of Private Treaty clients. Every large centre will have a senior editorial person to interface with Treaty clients. In turn, the senior edit person will be responsible, along with the existing team, for edit delivery. This team will have regional champions along with one or two reporters for help—but more importantly, they will liaise with REs (Resident Editors) and help in integrating the content into the different sections of the paper. In this way, we will be able to incorporate PT into the editorial mainstream, rather than it looking like a series of press releases appearing in vanilla form in the paper.”

In the past two years, Times Group has invested over Rs. 2,000 crore in 114-odd companies in diverse businesses. (Check website www.timesprivatetreaties.com)

Typically, the group buys a 5%-10% stake in mid-sized companies which plan an IPO. The company agrees to invest an equal amount in advertising in Times publications over a three-to-five-year period at a steep discount to the normal advertising rates.
Most companies that sign Private treaties are planning public issues, selling expensive realty projects or looking for private equity. All of them are looking for publicity and an assurance of POSITIVE Editorial Coverage. For the Times Group, it is a double bubble. First it gives Significant Capital Appreciation and tax-free income (since there is no long-term capital gains tax)—on the other hand, advertising revenue is fully taxed.

Here are some of the Clients of Times Group Private Treaties on which you will never hear a bad news.

  1. Deccan Aviation
  2. HDIL Ltd.
  3. Rajesh Exports Ltd
    Sobha Builders
    India Infoline
    Emaar MGF
    Amity Education
    Vishal Retail Pvt Ltd
    Bartronics Ltd
    Paramount Airways
    Future Group

Do you think that you will ever read negative articles about these companies in Economic Times? Economic Times is the most read business daily in India. A lot of people including Fund Managers make investment decisions based on Economic Times. It is one of the biggest conflicts of interest and a major sham which Times Group has been running. And so yesterday I changed my newspaper.

Post Script: Well Bartronics Ltd is also in the list about which I had expressed concerns in my blog in Feb Read Story here. A lot of people had commented that falling promoters stake is not a concern. Well to update you all on demand by SEBI promoters have released the number of shares they have pledged. Go to BSE website check out it seems that in Mar-09 quarter they have pledged each and every share they owned !!

Apr 9, 2009

Poverty Line or Starvation Line?

I had always known that poverty is widespread across India. But never felt that poverty was so extreme. Since last 12 days I was hopping trains travelling in buses and visited some rural areas of UP, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh.

And on my way back, I asked myself a question, if there is so much poverty in India then how come only 26% of our population is below poverty line. I could immediately smell a fraud and misinterpretation of facts by Indian Government.

Let’s check what the definition of poverty in India is. It says that anyone earning below Rs 368 per month in rural areas and Rs. 559 per month in urban areas is considered below poverty line. This is approximately USD 7-10 a month!! Now the billion dollar question is .. Is this amount sufficient to lift you above poverty line?

The government feels a person earning merely 19 Rs a day is urban area is not poor. What all can you do in Rs 19. You can’t even buy a kilogram of vegetable for your family in this amount. How will you buy medicines? Where will you live? Even Kerosene will cost you 18 Rs / Litre. But our politicians feel 19 rupees is a good amount for you not to be called poor.

In 19 Rupees you can’t even get 2400 calories a day below which you UNICEF says a person is starving. It is not poverty line. India has defined ‘Starvation Line’. And so the fact is that 26% of the Indians are starving to death slowly. Surviving on less than a meal a day. But according to our politicians only 26% people are poor.

I tried to calculate the minimum amount that a person needs to survive in India.

If I take the current prevailing rates of food items in urban India

Rice = 20 Rs/Kg
Wheat = 17 Rs /Kg
Staple Vegetable = 12 Rs / Kg

For 1 person the Food expense alone come at around 700 Rs per month.

Cooking and fuel expenses comes at 50 Rs / month

Minimum clothing / sleeping requirement = 50 Rs / Month (Assuming that person sleeps on streets / roads and at least needs 1 blanket and mat)

A poor person labours hard and lives in unhygienic conditions which also mean that he will also fall ill. Going by current medicine rates at least 20 Rs a month should be kept aside for medicine & doctor fee

So Just to survive a person needs 820 Rs / Month.

So by this estimate approximately 68% people are below Poverty Line in India

And what do our politicians do? Give away subsidies to build a car when the same amount of money can be used to feed Indian poor.

37.7% of Indian households do not have access to a nearby water source. But we have world class mineral water companies.

49% do not have a proper shelter. But we have our ministers living in 5000 sq yard bungalows in Lutyen’s Delhi

69.5% do not have access to proper toilets. But we have the malls with Gucci and Reebok brands.

85.2% of Indian villages do not have a secondary school. But higher education of is subsidised.

43% of Indian villages do not have a pucca road connecting them. But Delhi government buys flats from builders for common wealth games.

Satyam was nothing. Ever seen bigger frauds than this.