Asia's richest man accuses short-seller of attacking India
India's Adani Group, run by Asia's richest man, has hit back at a report from U.S.-based short-seller Hindenburg Research, calling it "malicious," "baseless" and full of "selective misinformation."
Shares in the conglomerate have suffered massive losses since Hindenburg issued its report alleging fraud and other malfeasance. In trading Monday, the company's Adani Enterprises gained 4.8% but shares in other Adani listed companies fell between 5% and 20%.
Adani's 400-page rebuttal issued late Sunday accused Hindenburg of attacking India and its institutions and of breaking securities and foreign exchange laws. Adani has also accused Hindenburg, which said it was betting against the group's companies, of trying to derail a share sale originally expected to bring in about $2.5 billion.
"This is not merely an unwarranted attack on any specific company but a calculated attack on India, the independence, integrity and quality of Indian institutions, and the growth story and ambition of India," Adani's statement said.
Hindenburg denied the accusations and said Adani's response largely confirmed its findings and failed to address key questions. It said the group was trying to conflate its rise with the success of India itself.
"We believe India is a vibrant democracy and emerging superpower with an exciting future. We also believe India's future is being held back by the Adani Group," Hindenburg said in a statement. "We also believe that fraud is fraud, even when it's perpetrated by one of the wealthiest individuals in the world."
Gautam Adani and his family have built a vast fortune mining coal to fuel energy-hungry India's fast-growing economy. Businesses in the conglomerate include infrastructure, ports, data transmission, media, renewable energy, defense manufacturing and agriculture. Adani's own net worth has skyrocketed nearly 2,000% in recent years.
His net worth reached nearly $125 billion late last year, surpassing Amazon boss Jeff Bezos to briefly make him the world's second-richest man, according to Bloomberg's Billionaire Index. After last week's losses, the Bloomberg index ranked him seventh richest in the world with a fortune worth $92.7 billion.
The report from Hindenburg said it judged the seven key Adani listed companies to have an "85% downside, purely on a fundamental basis owing to sky-high valuations."
Hindenburg said its report, "Adani Group: How the World's 3rd Richest Man is Pulling the Largest Con in Corporate History," followed a two-year investigation. It listed 88 questions it invited the company to answer. Most of the allegations involved concerns about the group's debt levels, activities of its top executives, use of offshore shell companies and past investigations into fraud.
Investors began dumping Adani-linked shares on Wednesday, wiping out some $48 billion in market value.
Over the weekend, Adani said it would carry on with its share sale in Adani Enterprises as scheduled, despite the value of its shares falling well below the price range of the offering. On Monday, Adani Enterprises was trading at 2,892.85 rupees ($35.50), up 4.8%, but well below the band of 3,112 to 3,276 rupees initially set for the offering, which closes Tuesday.
In its response to Hindenburg, the Adani Group said none of the 88 questions was "based on independent or journalistic fact finding." It rejected numerous questions as baseless, misleading or biased. In response to other questions, the group attached documents and tables of data and said it had followed local laws.
Adani also dismissed concerns over its debt-fueled growth, saying the "leverage ratios of Adani portfolio companies continue to be healthy and are in line with the industry benchmarks of the respective sectors."
In an interview with CNBC TV-18 on Monday, Adani chief financial officer Jugeshinder Singh said the group's gross debt was $30 billion, out of which $9 billion was with Indian banks.
Hindenburg said only 30 pages in Adani's response focused on issues it raised and the rest consisted of court records, general information, company financials and "irrelevant corporate initiatives." Adani failed to specifically answer 62 of the 88 questions it had posed, it said.
Late Thursday, Jatin Jalundhwala, head of the Adani group's legal department, said the group was considering legal action against Hindenburg. Hindenburg said it stood by its report and would welcome legal action by the Adani group.