Tuesday, June 14, 2011

India's subprime builders stocks

Here is a brilliant article by R Jaganathan on the destruction of weath in the real estate stocks.  I had written a similar article few years ago when the parabolic real estate stocks had crashed to the earth and people were holding losses of upto 90%. 

>>> Article below. I have cut paste it, just in case some smart Alec decides that it is no longer new-worthy. 

A curious phenomenon exists in the real estate sector. In the last three-and-odd years, you know, I know, and the dog at the lamp-post knows, that land prices have only gone up, flats cost more, and our EMIs on housing loans have gone up. We are paying through our noses for the few square feet we want to call our home.

Who gains when this happens? One presumes that the real estate companies and builders must be raking in the moolah.

But here’s the paradox: between January 2008 and June 2011, stock market listed real estate companies have destroyed investor value. The Bombay Stock Exchange Real Estate Index has dropped vertically by 85%, yes, 85%, when the broader market has fallen less than a fifth. The BSE Sensex fell by 15% during this time.

In a sample list of 10 listed realty companies compiled by Firstpost, the investor value destruction adds up to a stupendous Rs 2,66,952 crore. AFP
Investors have cried all the way to their brokers. In a sample list of 10 listed realty companies compiled by Firstpost, the investor value destruction adds up to a stupendous Rs 2,66,952 crore. DLF leads the list of losers— or rather, loss-creators— with a drop in market value of over Rs 1,43,520 crore.

What gives? When house prices have either not fallen too much and, in fact, may have only risen, when the land on which these houses were built was probably bought when prices were lower, why have real estate companies left investors holding the sack?

Far from investors deserting in droves, companies like DLF have, in fact, drawn new and more powerful investors. One example is Robert Vadra, hubby of Priyanka Gandhi, daughter of Sonia Gandhi.

According to a report in The Economic Times a few months ago, Vadra has been quietly diversifying away from his jewellery and handicrafts business into real estate. The paper says:

“…the 42-year-old Vadra, known for his punishing fitness regime and love for fast bikes, has sought to scale up and diversify his business activities since 2008, acquiring tracts of land in Haryana and Rajasthan, a 50% stake in a leading business hotel in Delhi, and attempting an entry into the business of chartering aircraft. Regulatory filings available in the public domain and reviewed by ET reporters reveal the changing graph of Vadra’s business interests. These include wide-ranging transactions with the DLF Group.”

Someone married into the country’s first family presumably has lots of advice available to him on how profitable, or unprofitable, the real estate business is, as is evident from the fall in the market values of shares. But we are surely missing something here?

Sure, we are. When house prices are high, when the profits reported on balance-sheets are falling, and share values reflect the same thing, it can mean only one thing: poor corporate governance. And in the real estate business, poor corporate governance means the profits may be hidden somewhere else, and investors are left sucking their thumbs.

Anecdotal evidence tells us that land is the currency used by politicians for storing their ill-gotten wealth. In fact, almost all recent scams implicating, bureaucrats and even judges involve land.

Sharad Pawar, the Nationalist Congress Party president, is widely believed to be a pastmaster in this business (Read more on this here.) Karnataka Chief Minister BS Yeddyurappa is under fire for corruption due to alleged land-grabs by his family members. (Read and listen here.)

The Adarsh Society scam, which cost Ashok Chavan his job as Chief Minister in Maharashtra, is about real estate. It also implicates his predecessor, Vilasrao Deshmukh.

YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, son of late Andhra Chief Minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy, is accused of owning lots of real estate in Andhra and Bangalore, as a Firstpost expose last month showed.

The Satyam scandal, where Chairman B Ramalinga Raju confessed to overstating accounts and profits, is also related to property: money was siphoned off to Maytas, a real estate company. And Jagan Reddy’s father YSR was a key player in allocating land and infrastructure projects to Maytas (reverse of Satyam).

Several judges of the higher judiciary are also being accused on involvement in land deals. Among them are former Chief Justice of India KG Balakrishnan, and Paul J Dinakaran, former Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court, who is now being probed by a Parliamentary committee for various unexplained dealings.

If we have established the close linkage between the powerful and real estate skullduggery with this indicative list, here’s a speculative pointer: a part of the steep fall in the market values of listed real estate companies represents money parked elsewhere on behalf of the powerful.

If the total drop in value is Rs 2,66,952 crore for just 10 companies, and assuming even a 40% value drop due to weak sentiment in real estate stocks (when the BSE Sensex has fallen 15%), we are still left with an unexplained loss of over Rs 1,60,000 crore.

It is more than likely that this loss represents value that lies outside the companies in the hands of speculators, politicians, bureaucrats and middlemen who are part of the realty corruption chain.

And remember, we have only talked about listed companies. The real, real estate sector, may be even bigger than this.