Shares in Gautam Adani’s businesses plunged further on Thursday after an attempt by the Indian billionaire to reassure panicking investors failed to halt a stock market meltdown that has wiped $100 billion off the value of his conglomerate.
“For me, the interest of my investors is paramount and everything is secondary,” the 60-year-old businessman said in a recorded video address posted after he abruptly abandoned a $2.5 billion deal to sell new shares in his flagship company, Adani Enterprises, just 24 hours after it was sealed.
“Once the market stabilizes, we will review our capital market strategy,” he added
It was the first time the tycoon has spoken about the market mayhem that has slashed his personal fortune by nearly $50 billion in just over a week, removing his crown as Asia’s richest man. But it wasn’t enough to calm markets. Shares in Adani Enterprises plunged 25% Thursday, while shares in his other companies fell 5% to 10%.
The unprecedented crash in the value of Adani Group shares started when an American short seller, Hindenburg Research, accused the conglomerate of fraud and manipulating stock markets. The group, which has seven listed companies, has lost 50% of its value since last Tuesday, when Hindenburg published its report.
Reuters reported Wednesday that the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) was examining the stock price falls and also looking into any possible irregularities in the abortive share sale, citing a source with direct knowledge of the matter. The SEBI has so far not responded to requests for comment.
India’s central bank has asked lenders for details on their debt exposure to the Adani Group, Bloomberg reported on Thursday, citing unnamed sources. The Reserve Bank of India did not respond to a request for comment.
‘Rude awakening’ for foreign investors
The crisis swirling around one of India’s most prominent businessmen could have bigger consequences for the fast-growing economy, which only two weeks ago was pitching aggressively for foreign investment at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
“It is evident from looking at broader market activity that foreign investors …have had a rude awakening,” said Saurabh Mukherjea, founder of Marcellus Investment Managers.
The fallout from the Hindenburg report could engulf other large Indian businesses, experts warned.
“The Adani saga has opened a big can of worms,” said Manish Chowdhury, head of research at brokerage Stoxbox. “The India story is looking weak” to foreign investors now, he added.
Chowdhury said that investors would now be “skeptical” about accounting practices at all Indian firms, while Mukherjea said his clients are already asking more questions.
“Naturally … they are requesting us to do a bit of hand holding with regards to how accounting and corporate governance works in India,” Mukherjea told CNN.
Adani is seen as a close ally of India’s prime minister. And opposition lawmakers have begun asking for a probe into the Hindenburg report. They even staged a protest in India’s parliament on Wednesday while the country’s finance minister presented the annual budget.
“This will certainly be a turn-off for large foreign investors now because it has become a political issue now,” said Stephen Innes, managing partner of SPI Asset Management.
In an investigation published on January 24, Hindenburg Research accused the Adani Group of “brazen stock manipulation and accounting fraud scheme over the course of decades.”
The research firm questioned the “sky-high valuations” of Adani firms and said their “substantial debt” put the entire group “on a precarious financial footing.” It concluded its report with 88 questions. These range from asking for details on Adani’s offshore entities, to why it has “such a convoluted, interlinked corporate structure.”
While the Adani Group had immediately denounced the report as “baseless” and “malicious,” the video address marked the first time the company’s founder has spoken about the crisis.
Analysts have long expressed fear that the rapid expansion of Adani businesses comes with huge risk. The group has been fueled by a $30 billion borrowing binge, making it one of the most indebted companies in India.
CreditSights, a research firm owned by the Fitch Group, published a report last year about Adani Group titled “Deeply Overleveraged” in which it expressed strong concerns about its debt-funded growth plans.
The Adani Group said at the time that the “leverage ratios” of its companies “continue to be healthy and are in line with the industry benchmarks in the respective sectors. “
In his video address, Adani said the group’s fundamentals were “strong” and that it had an “impeccable track record of fulfilling” its debt obligations. He said the Adani Enterprise share issue was pulled to protect investors from losses — the stock had been trading well below the offer price since last week.
“This decision will not have any impact on our existing operations and future plans. We will continue to focus on timely execution and delivery of projects,” he added.