Friday, January 16, 2009

Builders under pressure as buyers press for refund

Economic Times reports

Real estate boom are now under pressure from buyers and investors who look to exit these projects.

Already in a spot due to unavailability of bank loans and a fall in sales, the developers are less inclined to oblige the buyers who are coming together to mount pressure for refunds in projects that are yet to take off.

Several buyers and investors, angered by the developers’ inability to start work on projects, have stopped payment of installments on their purchases, adding to the companies’ cash problems.

Investors in DLF’s commercial projects in Delhi and Kolkata have come together with the help of brokers to put pressure on DLF to start construction or refund initial deposits. “DLF is way behind schedule in their projects. It should either start work on the project immediately and deliver in time or return our investment with 15% interest,” says Amit Jain (name changed), a senior executive with an MNC who invested Rs 1 crore each in DLF’s projects in Okhla in Delhi and Kolkata.

Mr Jain says since DLF follows a time-linked payment plan, it has been demanding payments from buyers even without starting construction.

The broker, who facilitated Mr Jain’s purchase, says DLF has not even paid the government to convert the industrial plots at Shivaji Marg and Okhla in Delhi into commercial plots. However, a DLF spokesman denied this saying, “We go by the agreement with the buyers signed at the time of booking. The allegations over the status of our projects are not true. We will deliver as per schedule.”

Several projects of Omaxe, Unitech and Parsvnath are also facing similar problems. Akash Verma, a Noida-based garment exporter, had booked an apartment each in projects of Omaxe and Unitech in Noida. He booked an apartment at the ‘soft launch’ of Omaxe’s Noida project in May 2007. Omaxe had promised to launch the project formally a few months later at a higher rate. The formal launch never happened and investors like Mr Verma are stuck. Omaxe has turned down requests for a refund. An Omaxe spokesman, however, said the company has ‘considered and taken care’ of all such requests.

Mr Verma has also been unsuccessfully seeking a refund of his investment in Unitech’s Grande project. “I am paying Rs 4.5 lakh as EMI. Unitech executives say the project will be delivered on schedule, but there is no worker at the site,” he says. A Unitech spokesman said, “We generally discourage cancellations. But if the buyers insist, we refund the money after deducting 10-15% of the total value of the apartment.”

Most realty firms do not encourage refund requests. Till the end of 2007, investors could easily sell their property in open market as the prices were going up. But with buyers disappearing from the market, investors are forced to approach developers for refunds.

Some property buyers are seeking refunds due to their weakened financial positions, while several others do so as they are not sure of the developers’ ability to complete the project. There are a few others who seek refunds as they feel that they can strike a better deal now with prices undergoing a major correction.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

MLAs are eyeing 300 plush Mhada flats

Why blame only Raju and Maytas for the land grab ? Here is an example of a legal land scam, where members of all parties will collude to gift each other this precious commodity. Corruption and greed of Indian politicians is at its peak. It is not even two months for the Mumbai attacks where hundreds of Mumbaikars died for no cause of theirs and brave policemen and commandos battled terrorists with obsolete weapons. Instead of compensating the family members of the slain citizens with a place to live these uber corrupt politicians want to rape and pillage any asset which comes their way.

These guys are no better then Ghazni or Genghis Khan and deserve to be taught a stern lesson. I appeal to everyone to forward this message to as many people, blogs, newspapers and TV channels and stop these looters at their doorstep

DNA reports.
Mumbai: In a move likely to anger hundreds of prospective flat buyers wanting affordable housing, the state government is considering a proposal to allot 300 newly constructed flats in a posh area at Lokhandwala complex in Andheri (West) to housing societies of past and current legislators.

Keeping this proposal in mind, the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (Mhada) kept aside 300 flats and did not bracket these with the 686 flats released for sale this week.

Mhada has constructed 1,088 flats of two and three BHK admeasuring over 800 sq ft carpet area in the sole high income group residential complex at Lokhandwala costing Rs44 lakh and Rs57 lakh respectively -- a steal as the Mhada prices are about one-third the prevailing rate quoted by private developers in the area at Rs12,000 a sq ft.
Sitaram Kunthe, state housing secretary, refused to comment.

However, HK Jawale, chief officer of Mhada's Mumbai board claimed that construction is still on at the HIG colony.

The legislators' demand is reportedly being spearheaded by two cabinet ministers. The ministers claimed that the government had earlier allotted land in survey number 161 at Versova to housing societies of legislators. But since the land fell under coastal regulation zone, buildings could not be constructed.

In lieu of the flats at Lokhandwala, the government has initiated the process to change the reservation of land near Bhakti Park at Wadala from no development zone to a residential use, said an official.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Old wine in new Nano bottle

I guess am getting old and cynical. Last year Sabeer Bhatia was announcing a Nano city in Haryana. This year in Gujarat. There is another one planned by Vinod Dham near Hyderbad. There is a smart city planned in Kochi. How many nano cities do we need ? All these nano cities are fronts for real estate plays by policitians and land owners. If there is something to emulate it is the Mahendra World City in Chennai. It took 6+ years to get it all setup and humming. All these one trick ponies are trying hard to sell the sabarmati river front as lifestyle living to the NRI Gujju community along with the community in Mumbai. To Modi's credit he has done a good job, however he is 10 years too late in trying to move IT to Ahmedabad. Maybe he can try Cleantech and other upcoming industries. Maybe it becomes the Green Valley, though I doubt how he will curtail the pollution and population and prevent Ahmedabad from becoming another Mumbai or Bengaluru. Ironically in Gujarathi 'Nanoo' means small or tiny. All one can hope is the bubble and Rokda (Cash) become Nanoo

Gujarat may be next Silicon Valley

AHMEDABAD: Hotmail Co-founder Sabeer Bhatia said he looks toward cultural innovation in Gujarat and has plans to develop the state as the next Silicon Valley.

"We have got Letter of Intent (LoI) from Carneige Mellon University for setting up a Nano city that will have software development facility for niche sectors such as nano technology, bio-sciences and material sciences," Bhatia said, during the inauguration of Vibrant Gujarat Global Investors Summit which began on Monday.

"With world class infrastructure here and support of the Gujarat government, we can make the state as next Silicon Valley of India by setting up a Nano city here," Bhatia said.

Sharing his experiences on emergence of silicon valley decades ago, Bhatia said the innovation at that time had led to phenomenal creation of value, and the model could be replicated here.

"Five decades ago Hewlett Packard created a small hub outside Standford that led to the birth of Silicon Valley, and in the last 10 years I have seen 1 trillion dollar of value being created because of cultural innovation," he added.

"India has huge potential for it, with a population of 1.2 billion people we create around half-a-million engineers annually, but somehow they are not able to make to make it to top echelons in key innovative hubs, therefore we need a nano city," Bhatia said.

The innovation can come through education and the Nano city will play a key role in software development for niche segments.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Rajus' land bank could be much bigger

Farfetched but true. The greed for land is has sunk a solid cash cow business built on cheap labor, dollar arbitrage and government subsidies. Along with Raju, there will be hundreds and thousands of mini Raju's who will be crushed under the weight of this collapse. In one stroke Ramalinga Raju has setback the development of Hyderabad and AP by atleast half a decade. There is no need for Telangana for now as the crown itself has crumbled.

If 6800 acres is put on the market to liquidate what will be net asset value of this illiquid asset. I think the figure is much more then 6800 acres. Satyam has land in Nagpur close to Mihan and those bozos there propped up the prices by quoting Raheja, Satyam and Infosys.In all my dreams I could never think that the end game for the real estate bubble would be the largest corporate fraud in Indian history.

I always thought the US slowdown will affect jobs, liquidity concerns etc. just like it happened in the US. Raju has created a script which will beat the slumdog millionaire several times over. Maybe he should write his memoirs and make a film on it. I'm sure he will regain his riches if that happens. A Satyameve Raju should be a good title.

It is mind boggling thinking about the hobsons choices which are presented to the Satyam employees.All the moronic newschannels and papers have yet to digest the scope of this scandal and the effect it has on employees whether in India or abroad. There is a satyam blog which is trying to bravely counter all the negative news. Unfortunately the kids don't realize that business leaders of GE/Nestle and others are cut-throat competitors. If they don't think twice in axing their own employees what chance do they have to keep contractors when the company which employs is close to bankruptcy, and will soon have few thousand lawyers crawling all over them. A simple question to ask is "Knowing what you know about Satyam today would you do business with them ?". If you answer yes for whatever reason, you are destined to be a sucker for life.

The Indian political establishment is also making some weak attempts so appear that they are working towards fixing the problem. As with politics they are looking for the problem to vanish and let some other issue take over the media. Unfortunately in this case the US shareholders will get their pound of flesh. Corrupt Indian politicians let Union carbide get away by sacrificing the lives of thousands of Indians. In a country where lives are much valued and law followed, the US lawyers will make sure the misdeeds are punished and the company assets are distributed to their shareholders. If the Indian govt. cannot assure the FII's, safety of their Investments, expect the Sensex to go back to 2003 levels. No more free lunches for anyone. The destruction of money here is of gigantic proportions.

If someone doubt's my analysis, just google for Filipino BPO companies which are touting itself as an attractive outsourcing destination for BPOs due to their ethical business practices. If the government fails to act swiftly, book offenders and liquidate Satyam quickly, one can be rest assured that dark days are ahead.

Let the scavenging begin.

DNA reports
Hyderabad: B Ramalinga Raju has claimed that Maytas Properties had a land bank of 6,800 acres, sources said it could be more than that, considering the properties the family had acquired in other countries.

The uncertainty about the actual amount of land held comes from the fact that most of the property was either handled through a general power of attorney (GPA) or held in somebody else's name.

While Teja Raju was completely in charge of Maytas Infra, a listed entity, Rama Raju, Jr, was handling Maytas Properties, a family-owned, closely-held entity. It is in the family-owned business that the Rajus had built the land bank.

Sources said that the family was acquiring land along with the immediate relative of a top politician in the statehoping that the politician would get a project to the area, or at least a good buyer for the property. "There are many such properties lying with the family which do not have any immediate market unless something major happens at the location," a source said.

However, the real estate market crashed in the last eight months, locking up the assets of the Rajus. The market is unlikely to see any upswing in the near future. "Even if you take the land bank of 6,800 acres, it means at least Rs 4,000-5,000 crore is locked up. Though Ramalinga Raju is a stakeholder in both Maytas Infra and Maytas Properties, it is his sons who are handling the affairs of both the companies," the source explained.

Livemint reports

UK investment bank Noble sees more Satyams in the pipeline

Noble Group was “disappointed but not surprised” by the Satyam development
Mumbai: A day after the Satyam Computer Services Ltd scandal broke, UK-based independent investment bank Noble Group released a report that points to widespread accounting lapses across the broad index of 500 Indian companies listed on Asia’s oldest bourse, the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE), and warns of “more Satyams in the pipeline”.
 Cheat code: Satyam Computer Services headquarters in Hyderabad. Mahesh Kumar A. / AP
Cheat code: Satyam Computer Services headquarters in Hyderabad. Mahesh Kumar A. / AP
The report suggests that as many as one-fifth of these companies have accounting issues. Noble Group was “disappointed but not surprised” by the Satyam development.
“Our experiences over the past few months...suggest that manipulative accounting and aggressive promoter practices are more common in India than is generally believed to be the case,” the report says.
The group’s analysis shows at least five types of accounting malpractices exist across BSE 500 firms—among them, recording revenue ahead of time, booking “fictitious” sales, expense manipulation and cash manipulation.
At least 30 companies, the report says, recognize revenue at the time of sales. This, it says, is disclosed by worsening cash flow from operating activities despite a rise in earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, or Ebitda, a widely used measure of profitability.
At least 60 firms on the index, the report says, seem to have booked sales that might actually have come from investment income or other income.
Also, reducing depreciation rates to push expenses to a later period is noticed in at least 10 companies. And at least 15 firms have handed out the bulk of their loans and advances to companies in which their directors have an interest.
“Pump and dump” and “blab and grab” are among the more popular ways that promoters use to push their stock up, according to the report. In the former, the promoter “pumps” up the stock to generate liquidity, follows it up with announcements that send the price up and then “dumps” the holdings.
In the latter, the promoter announces a new venture, even when it has nothing to do with the company’s main business. This infuses fresh funds, which the promoter “grabs”, but then sells his/her own holdings. The new venture is then conveniently postponed, sending the stock price down.
A third method promoters use is to simply siphon off funds during bear markets, when the pressure to show strong earnings is less. The most common method, the report says, is to inflate “other expenses” or “sales and distribution expenses”, or even “miscellaneous expenses”. In bear markets, the report says, such expenses rose by almost 25% (as a percentage of operating expenses).
The problem exists on three fronts: lax accounting rules, weak market regulation and corporate corruption.
In the first category, the report says, there is a lack of restrictions on auditors to do consulting work for the firms they audit.
Second, the Indian market does not seem to place restrictions on how quickly after the year-end a firm has to publish its annual report, which deprives investors of a timely look at the true state of affairs. The report also castigates market regulators that are driven more by political decisions.
And the third fault-line lies, the report says, with the promoters, whose powers are largely unchecked by directors, auditors or regulators.
Still, in the face of all the doom and gloom surrounding Satyam, the report says this is the best time to invest in India, as the markets are unprecedentedly cheap, noting that such scandals do not appear to have an overall bearing on market direction.
Investors must do three basic things before they open their wallets—primary data checks on management, forensic financial analysis and in-depth interviews with management.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Property agents turn auto drivers and fish sellers

The rats are the first to escape a sinking ship. Who will be the last man standing ?? Speculators, black money lenders, banks or builders ?

Ground realty put him in the rickshaw driver's seat

The Metro project and recession brought a slow death to Sediq Sharief's real estate business, reports Malvika Tegta

It's 10.30 in the night. We size up a "gang" of auto drivers from a distance, ready for tough negotiation. A young man of 24 gawkily takes visual cues from the seniors and gestures at us to hop into his autorickshaw. But the way Sediq Sharief double-checks directions is a giveaway: he is just two months into the profession and still discovering the city's insides. Almost a year ago, Sediq lived without a care, worked on an average of 10 hours a month and made a neat Rs20,000. That was till the real estate sector slumped, as the airport went the Devanahalli way, the Metro branched into the interiors of the city and the recession dealt the final blow.

Sediq's smooth moving real estate business soon got traded with the auto. Today the shutters are down on his five-year-old office on Artillery Road and its signboard gathers dust in some distant garage. He is out driving the auto from six in the morning to 12 noon and then again four in the afternoon to one in the night. At the end of the grind, he is left with a paltry Rs150-200 to live another day. But the one thing that has remained constant "since childhood" is the need to be his own boss. "I could have done other jobs too, but when you drive an auto, there's no one telling you what to do," he says. Property rates in his domain – Airport Road, Cambridge Layout, Koramangala, Ulsoor and Indiranagar — have crashed by "close to 50%." "There was a time when there were no sellers and only buyers; today there are only sellers and no buyers," he says. Call centre employees, the chunk of his clientele, went from "preferring to stay in middle class areas rather than high-end neighbourhoods like Airport Road or Koramangala" to not calling at all.

Metro only made things worse. "Four agents and I had sealed a deal for Rs65 crore. I would have got close to Rs10 lakh as commission in that one deal alone, but when the government marked a part of the property to be cut later for the Metro, the buyer opted out," he says. Sediq's business had taken him a year to set up, all on his own. "Dealing in houses requires links and a strong network," he says. After one year of getting into the chain of brokers, he said his life was free and there was never a thought spared on how much he spent in a go. Now he feels chained and responsible to earn for the other four members of his family, only one of whom works. Unlike the days when he used to wake up at 10, he now gets up at 5.30 am and goes to bed at 1.30 am, the little sleep he manages being a troubled one at that. He has parted ways with five of his friends who "began to look down on him". As an auto driver, "everyone considers you dirt and even abuses you."

Other switchovers
Sediq Sharief isn't alone in this. Five friends of his have either taken to driving autos, welding, driving oil carriers or opening up tea stalls.

Munnabhai, a broker friend from Coles Park, has left for Bombay to open a boutique there. Kumar, who used to deal in properties worth "lakhs and crores", now runs a "chai shop". Syeed Rehan, known famously on Artillery Road as Mahboob Bhai, now sells fish. "After my shop closed, my income has gone down by Rs10,000-15,000 a month," says Syeed. "Everything has changed, par ghar to chalana hai nahin to bhooke marenge."

Abdul Qader, a property dealer from Ulsoor, has also turned to auto driving. "I earn close to Rs12,000 a month, out of which I pay Rs6,600 monthly as rent for my auto," he says. He had also invested Rs5,00,000 that he got from a property deal in a property, the price of which fell, fetching him a payback of Rs2.5 lakh. The news in the market is that things won't look up anytime before five years. "Par ummeed hai," says Mahboob Bhai.

Roubini interview with Maria Bartiromo

Roubini interviewed by Maria Bartiromo for her Business Week column:

January 7, 2009, Business Week

Columbia's Amar Bhidé and NYU's Nouriel Roubini "When you have an integrated global economy…there are not many places to hide because markets [and economies] become correlated"

By Maria Bartiromo

A year from now we may look back on this column and thank heaven that not all of its grim predictions came true. But don't bet your kid's lunch money against Nouriel Roubini. A professor of economics at New York University's Stern School of Business and chairman of the consultancy RGE Monitor, Roubini in 2006 predicted the housing bust and an ensuing recession, among other on-the-money calls. And he says the worst is still ahead. Amar Bhidé, a professor of business at Columbia University, is a former McKinsey executive, a staff member for the commission that investigated the stock market crash of 1987, and author of the new book The Venturesome Economy: How Innovation Sustains Prosperity in a More Connected World. He, too, expects a trying year ahead. But beyond the black cloud hanging over America, he sees a country chastened and an economy strengthened by the ordeal.

MARIA BARTIROMO Where are we right now in this economic slowdown?

NOURIEL ROUBINI We are looking at the most severe U.S. recession in the last 50 or 60 years, both in terms of length and depth. Every piece of economic news that's come out in the last few weeks and months has been much worse than expected, from employment, holiday sales, capital spending by the corporate sector, the continued collapse of residential real estate, and a weakening even of the trade balance, so the rest of the world is also contracting.

You say we are looking at a deep and possibly multiyear recession in America; an additional 15% drop in U.S. home prices; painful recessions in Europe, Canada, Japan, and other established economies; a sharp slowdown in China, India, Russia, and Brazil; and possibly default by some emerging-market countries. Can anything stop this locomotive bearing down on us? The only positive news I see is that the policy response, both in the U.S. and in other countries, is going to be quite aggressive. But in my view, that policy stimulus is going to have most of its effects in 2010. And the cost of issuing a huge amount of public debt will be trillion-dollar budget deficits this year and next, which eventually is going to have a crowding-out effect on private demand. So either we issue a huge amount of public debt to finance it, and that's going to push up interest rates, or we print a lot of money that eventually is going to be inflationary and again damaging to the economy. We have no choice but to have an aggressive policy response, but it's not a free lunch.

In a new article in Foreign Policy, you suggest that corporate earnings will shock any equity analysts still deluding themselves. Where will the Dow be at midyear? I see it about 20% below current levels. Same for the S&P.

How many jobs do you think will be lost in 2009? I expect job losses of at least 2.5 million.

How much confidence do you have in the new economic team that President-elect Obama has named? I think folks like Tim Geithner, Larry Summers, and others are as good as you can get. But the problems they're facing are so vast that even the best economic team and the best economic policies are not going to start having an effect until the end of 2009 [or beginning of] 2010.

Do you think criticism of how Hank Paulson and his team have handled the crisis is fair? It was a very tough situation, of course, but I think that the policy response by Paulson has been relatively confused, not credible, and inconsistent. So I give them a low grade in terms of performance.

As an investor, what do I do in this scenario? Safe assets such as government bonds are the place to be until midyear when we see whether the fog of uncertainty clears in the direction of a recovery.

And keep as much of my assets as possible in cash for the near term. Absolutely.

Are there any areas escaping this upset? Are there any places to hide? Unfortunately, when you have an integrated global economy with trade and financial links, there are not really many places to hide because markets become correlated, and economies become highly correlated.

Do you see any positives coming out of this crisis? The U.S. has been living in a situation of excesses for too long. Consumers were out spending more than their income and the country was spending more than its income, running up large current-account deficits. Now we have to tighten our belts and save more. The trouble is that higher savings in the medium term are positive, but in the short run a consumer cutback on consumption makes the economic contraction more severe. That's the paradox of thrift. But we need to save more as a country, and we have to channel more resources to parts of the economy that are more productive. And when you have too many financial engineers and not as many computer engineers, you have a problem.

What do you advise students coming out of school? I think this country needs more people who are going to be entrepreneurs, more people in manufacturing, more people going into sectors that are going to lead to long-run economic growth. When the best minds of the country are all going to Wall Street, there is a distortion in the allocation of human capital to some activities that become excessive and eventually inefficient.

MARIA BARTIROMO Nouriel Roubini paints a pretty dire picture of the year ahead. How deep and painful will this recession be?

AMAR BHIDE For some people, extremely painful. For almost everyone, anxious. But I think most people will come out of it fine. In a book I wrote in 1999, I said: "We're in the middle of an Internet bubble, and it's all going to blow up, and it's all going to come to a bad end." After a dinner talk I gave, I was taken aside by a Merrill Lynch broker, and he said: "Look, you may well be right, but nobody became rich in America being a pessimist." And he was dead right. The Internet bubble did blow up, and some people lost their shirts, but the overall process of economic growth and increased prosperity stayed in place. People will redouble their efforts to be more innovative and efficient....

Maria Bartiromo is the anchor of CNBC's Closing Bell.