Conglomerate run by Asia’s richest man struggles to contain the fallout
Pershing Square’s Bill Ackman found the Hindenburg Research’s report on Adani Group companies “highly credible and extremely well researched,” he said in a Twitter post, less than two days after the American short seller’s swipe at the Indian conglomerate shaved US$12 billion off its market value.
The selloff in Gautam Adani’s corporate empire accelerated on Friday, erasing more than US$51 billion of market value in two sessions as Asia’s richest man struggles to contain the fallout from the scathing report.
“Adani’s response to Hindenburg Research is the same as Herbalife’s response to our original 350-page presentation,” Ackman said, referring to his ill-fated short-selling campaign that lasted more than five years against the weight-loss shakes seller before he exited his position in Herbalife Nutrition Ltd. in 2018.
An Adani Group representative did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comments on the Ackman Twitter post. Ackman said in a separate Twitter post that he’s neither “long or short” in Adani firms nor has done any independent research.
Adani Group, led by billionaire Gautam Adani — the world’s fourth-richest person — said Thursday that it was exploring legal action against Hindenburg Research. The ports-to-power conglomerate also called the Jan. 24 report “maliciously mischievous,” “bogus” and “unresearched.”
Hindenburg, founded by Nate Anderson, published a report earlier this week saying it was shorting the Adani conglomerate’s U.S.-traded bonds and non-Indian-traded derivative instruments. It accused the group of “brazen” market manipulation and accounting fraud.
The wide-ranging allegations of purported corporate malpractice spoke of a web of Adani-family controlled offshore shell entities in tax havens, from the Caribbean, Mauritius and the United Arab Emirates.
Hindenburg claims these were used to facilitate corruption, money laundering and taxpayer theft, while siphoning money from the group’s listed companies. The comglomerate has businesses range from ports to power plants to airports, data centres, renewables, cement makers and media.
The report was out on Wednesday — an exceptionally sensitive day to be hit by a short seller attack since the flagship Adani Enterprises Ltd. opening a US$2.5 billion share sale for institutional investors. The anchor book of the follow-on offer was oversubscribed.
The sale, which continues to be open for subscription through Jan. 31, is part of the tycoon’s attempt to seek global credibility for his rapidly-growing empire. Adani is also looking to woo India’s mom and pop investors to broaden his shareholder base. This would help silence critics who highlight his group’s thinly-traded stocks and rising debt.
The short seller attack on the Adani conglomerate shows the perils of going global for the self-made billionaire as he and his aides are increasingly held to the highest standards of corporate governance.
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This level of scrutiny is also something Adani has largely managed to avoid in his home country, where he has mostly faced criticisms over high levels of leverage and political barbs for his perceived proximity to the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
None of the past challenges have curbed his meteoric rise. In Hindenburg — a relatively small short seller but one with a history of taking down companies like electric vehicle maker Nikola Corp. — Adani may have run into his toughest opponent so far.
“Regarding the company’s threats of legal action, to be clear, we welcome it,” the research firm said in a Twitter post on Wednesday, adding that it was standing by its report. “If Adani is serious, it should also file suit in the U.S. where we operate. We have a long list of documents we would demand in the legal process.”
With assistance from Chris Kay.