Share debacle a rare setback for Indian tycoon Adani
By Krutika Pathi in New Delhi
NEW DELHI (AP) — Indian billionaire Gautam Adani grinned as he posed this week for photos with Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu after acquiring one of the country’s main ports, in Haifa.
“I promise you that in the years to come, we will transform the skyline we see around us,” said Adani, his manner upbeat even as his business empire was losing billions. Investors have been dumping Adani shares for more than a week after U.S. short-selling firm Hindenburg Research put out a report alleging his businesses have engaged in fraud and stock price manipulation. The Adani group has denied this.
Before the debacle, Adani, 60, was Asia’s richest man and the third wealthiest in the world, according to Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index. Not anymore.
The massive losses are a rare setback for the coal mining tycoon from western India’s Gujarat state and raise questions about what lies ahead.
Expansion has been at the heart of Adani’s success story. The son of a middle-class family in the Gujarat capital, Ahmedabad, he quit college to become a diamond trader in the country’s financial capital, Mumbai. He returned home to join his brother in importing plastics before establishing Adani Enterprises in the 1980s, trading in everything from shoes to buckets.
Adani shifted to investing in ports, construction and coal mining as India opened up its economy in the 1990s. A new middle class emerged and the ambitious businessman placed bets on providing energy to serve them.
Adani’s first big project, Mundra Port, is now India’s largest commercial port and he is the country’s biggest private port operator. Within a decade, he also became India’s largest developer and operator of coal mines.
Today, Adani companies also operate airports in major cities, build roads, generate electricity, manufacture defense equipment, develop agricultural drones, sell cooking oil and run a media outlet. He has his eyes set on becoming the world’s largest renewable energy player by 2030.
Citing market volatility, late Wednesday his flagship Adani Enterprises scrapped a $2.5 billion share offering that, despite the bloodletting in the group’s shares and a 28% plunge that day in its own share price, had been oversubscribed.
In a video address Thursday, Adani said the share offering was canceled to “insulate investors from potential losses.”
“For me, the interest of my investors is paramount and everything else is secondary,” he said.
The share offering was seen as a test of investor confidence in the self-made industrialist, whose ascent has been celebrated as a symbol of India’s economic ambitions. The Adani Group said in a statement that canceling the offering would not “have any impact on our existing operations and future plans.”
The Adani Group said its balance sheet was “very healthy” and its history of servicing debt was “impeccable.”
Still, Brian Freitas, a New Zealand-based analyst with Periscope Analytics who has researched the Adani Group, said the collapse in share prices for India’s second-largest conglomerate may hinder its future plans for expansion.
“It’s going to be difficult for them to raise new money,” he said.
Adani shares are still losing value. Shares in Adani Enterprises tumbled 27% Thursday, while stock in six other Adani companies fell 5%-10%.
The tycoon, who favors a plain white shirt and dark trousers over fancy dress and is said to be affable and quiet spoken, slid from being the world’s third richest man to the 13th as his fortune sank to $72 billion, according to Bloomberg’s Billionaire Index. Prior to the Hindenburg report, his net worth was about $120 billion.
More vitally, the company is now without the funds it had hoped to raise in this week’s offering. Companies often launch such share offerings to finance growth while reducing debt.
“Thanks to the short-seller, Adani’s plans will get slowed down significantly,” said R.N. Bhaskar, a journalist who wrote a biography on Adani.
Analysts say that rapid expansion has largely been fueled by borrowing. The group’s debt stands at $30 billion, out of which $9 billion is from Indian banks, the group’s chief financial officer said recently.
After the stock rout of the past week, lenders may deem his group high risk and toughen their criteria for borrowing, like demanding higher interest rates or more collateral, said Freitas.
“Equity investors are going to be wary because the stock isn’t doing well — if they can’t raise equity, they will have to go to the debt market,” he added. “Given the situation, foreign lenders will think twice before lending any new money to Adani.”
Despite Adani’s longstanding ties with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a fellow Gujarati, and other powerful politicians, the government has so far remained silent on his recent troubles even as pressure from the political opposition for an investigation into Adani’s situation grows.
In recent years, Adani has pumped money into sectors like agriculture, defense and renewable energy — all seen as high priorities for the Indian government.
Like Adani’s commitment to the port in Israel’s Haifa, many of the group’s overseas infrastructure projects, in countries such as Sri Lanka and Tanzania, have served as an Indian counterweight to rival China’s holdings.
The Haifa deal was a coup for India, located close to another port managed by the Shanghai International Port Group.
“India is working with great fervor with Israel on defense and technology, and Adani now has a port there. You think the Indian government can sniff at that?” said Bhaskar. “The thing is, you can’t wish away Adani — because he is indispensable at this point.”
He expects Adani to remain undaunted.
“The more challenging a situation gets, the more defiant and creative he becomes to overcome it,” Bhaskar said.
Alberta moves to force oilpatch to pay owed taxes above ‘threshold’ amount
The Alberta government says it’s moving to force oilpatch companies to make good on their unpaid municipal taxes.
Energy Minister Peter Guthrie says he’s issued an order that blocks companies from acquiring or transferring licences on wells or other assets if their unpaid taxes exceed a threshold amount.
That threshold is yet to be determined and will be set by the Alberta Energy Regulator and Alberta Municipal Affairs.
Alberta Energy says in a release that once the threshold has been established, companies that don’t meet it will be targeted for collection.
Rural Municipalities Alberta has said energy companies owe the municipal districts in which they operate a total of $268 million.
Paul McLauchlin of the group says the order will help reduce the unpaid tax burden on its members.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 20, 2023.
The Canadian Press
Fed’s tough challenge: Confront inflation and bank jitters
Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell speaks during a news conference, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023, at the Federal Reserve Board in Washington. With inflation still high and anxieties gripping the banking industry, the Federal Reserve and its chair, Jerome Powell, will face a complicated task at their latest policy meeting Wednesday and in the months to follow: How to tame inflation by continuing to raise interest rates while also helping to restore faith in the financial system – all without triggering a severe recession. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)
By Christopher Rugaber in Washington
WASHINGTON (AP) — Still grappling with persistently high inflation, the Federal Reserve faces an entirely new — and in some ways conflicting — challenge as it meets to consider interest rates this week: How to restore calm to a nervous banking system.
The two simultaneous problems would normally push the Fed in different directions: To fight elevated inflation, it would raise its benchmark rate, perhaps substantially, for the ninth time in the past year. But at the same time, to soothe financial markets, the Fed might prefer to leave rates unchanged, at least for now.
Most economists think the Fed will navigate the conundrum by raising rates by just a quarter-point when its latest policy meeting ends Wednesday. That would be less than the half-point hike that many economists had expected before the recent collapse of two large banks. But it would still mark another step by the Fed in its continuing drive to tame inflation.
If the Fed were instead to leave rates alone, which some analysts last week had suggested it might do given the banking turmoil, it could alarm Wall Street traders by suggesting that significant problems remain in the banking system.
Vincent Reinhart, a former top Fed economist now at the investment bank Dreyfus-Mellon, noted that the central bank prefers to manage financial stability issues separately from its rate decisions. One goal of a series of emergency steps the Fed announced Sunday to bolster the banking system is to allow it to separately address inflation through its rate policies.
“If you are obviously seen as adjusting your monetary policy because of concerns about financial strain, then you’re admitting you’re not (successfully) doing … crisis management,” Reinhart said.
Last week, the European Central Bank imposed a half-point rate hike to try to reduce an 8.5% inflation rate despite jitters caused by the struggles of Switzerland’s second-largest lender, Credit Suisse. ECB President Christine Lagarde said she saw “no tradeoff” between fighting inflation and preserving financial stability.
On Sunday, the Swiss banking giant UBS bought troubled Credit Suisse for $3.25 billion in a deal orchestrated by banking regulators to try to prevent potentially calamitous turmoil in global markets.
The Fed intervened in the banking emergency a little over a week ago by joining with the Treasury Department and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation to announce that the government would protect all of the banks’ deposits. It also unveiled an expansive emergency lending program to provide ready cash for banks and other financial institutions. And it sweetened the terms for the banks to borrow from a long-standing Fed facility known as the “discount window.”
On Thursday, the Fed said it had lent nearly $300 billion in emergency funding to banks, including a record amount from the discount window.
Assuming that those programs work as intended, the Fed can focus on its ongoing campaign to cool inflation. Most recent economic reports point to a still-hot economy with strong hiring, steady consumer spending and persistent inflation.
Consumer prices rose 6% in February from a year earlier, down from a peak of 9.1% last June. Most of that decline reflected a shift in consumer spending away from goods — such as used cars, furniture and appliances, which have been falling in price — and toward services, including traveling, dining out and entertainment events.
That spending surge has kept inflation high in services categories, which Fed Chair Jerome Powell has singled out as a major concern because inflation tends to be particularly persistent in services.
“Inflation — it’s still got some legs, unfortunately,” said Nathan Sheets, a former Treasury official and Fed economist, now chief global economist at Citi. “The labor market is still booming.”
Hiring and inflation figures accelerated earlier this year after having shown signs of cooling in late 2022. In response, Powell and other Fed officials suggested that the central bank would likely raise rates higher than they had forecast in December and probably keep them at a peak for longer.
When the Fed raises its key rate, it typically leads to higher rates on mortgages, auto loans, credit cards and many business loans. Typically, consumer and business spending slow in response.
“The recent data indicate that we haven’t made as much progress as we thought,” Christopher Waller, a member of the Fed’s Board of Governors, said this month. The Fed’s efforts to reduce inflation to its 2% target, Waller said, “will be slower and longer than many had expected just a month or two ago.”
The banking troubles have also intensified fears among many economists that the economy could soon tumble into recession.
One reason for the pessimism is that some banks will likely curtail lending to help shore up their finances and avoid running the risk of a collapse. Economists at Goldman Sachs estimate that credit tightening by the banking sector could reduce economic growth this year by as much as a half-percentage point.
Ironically, though, that slowdown in growth could help the Fed, which has had only limited success in trying to cool the economy through its rate hikes.
The potential slowdown in lending “is going to do some of the Fed’s work for it,” said John Roberts, a former Federal Reserve economist said. “So the Fed won’t have to raise rates as high as otherwise.”
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