Adani’s $50 billion question: How did one company’s attack shred its share price?

The latest global character attack on mining monolith Adani by a short-selling investor firm underlines that truth is no defence, writes John McCarthy

Jan 30, 2023, updated Jan 30, 2023
Chairman and founder of the Adani Group Gautam Adani  Photo: Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times/Getty Images

Chairman and founder of the Adani Group Gautam Adani Photo: Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times/Getty Images

It’s no secret that the global conglomerate Adani has more than a few enemies and people who view it as a house of cards.

How many? Well, the company, which owns the controversial Carmichael coal mine in Queensland, lost about $50 billion in value from its listed companies after a report from US activist investor Hindenburg Research launched a scathing short-selling attack on it, claiming it was involved in creating false revenue through the use of offshore shelf companies.

Allegedly prominent in all of this was Samir Vora, who heads Adani’s Australian operations. It has to be pointed out that Vora and Adani were cleared of this by India’s courts years ago.

The report claimed Adani was responsible for the biggest corporate con in history, which is saying something when you consider the likes of Bernie Madoff who ran a Ponzi scheme worth about $US60 billion. Then there was Enron in which investors lost about $US70 billion and of course Lehmann Bros and its $US50 billion in hidden debt.

Let’s understand one thing about these activist companies, though. They take short positions and then release the negative report. So, they make money from the share price going down, which it did. That doesn’t mean they were wrong, but there was a clear strategy at play.

Hindenburg does have runs on the board. It has launched attacks on companies before in the US and caused investigations, charges and reform. Its Adani report is detailed and took two years to develop and it claimed it had 88 questions for Adani to answer.

So why does Adani have such opposition? Why is it a lightning rod for corporate hate in Australia and elsewhere?

It certainly has few friends in the Labor Party and the public never saw any other mining company coming to its aid during the painstaking approval process for the Carmichael mine.

That’s partly because mining companies never help out a competitor, but Adani is a different beast altogether. Its company in Australia is not publicly listed, so it seems opaque, at best.

And from the start it handled things badly and kept doing it. It over-promised and under-delivered and it ran an advertising campaign against a sitting Government, which is a good way of making sure you’re alone and a target.

Adani became the focal point for environmental activism, partly because it was opening up a new coal basin during a peak in the climate change wars, partly because it was foreign owned and had all sorts of trouble defending itself and partly because it was so horribly handled. It painted a bullseye on its back.

It also played into the hands of some very clever activist groups who singled it out when there were more than 50 operating coal mines in Queensland doing (or had done) exactly what Adani was doing, that is developing and operating a coal mine. Did the others do it better?

Two text books could be written about the Adani history in Australia: one on how not to set up a mining business and the other on how to campaign against it.

Understandably, it also has a fractured relationship with much of the non-News Corp media and there have been some howler public relations disasters that never helped its cause.

Adani released a 400-page response to the Hindenburg report, not surprisingly adopting the response that the attack was based on more than a little anti-India sentiment.

It said the report was not independent, well researched or objective. It added that it was malicious misinformation and that it was baseless and driven by an ulterior motive.

“The truth of the matter is that Hindenburg is an unethical short seller. A short seller in the securities market books gain from the subsequent reduction in prices of shares,” Adani said.

“The Hindenburg Report presents transactions related to Adani’s Australian businesses in a misleading way to purposefully undermine the reputation of the Adani Group, in order to pursue their own profit by short-selling shares in Adani Group companies.

“The transaction highlighted in the report between NQXT and Adani Mining Pty Limited (subsidiary of Adani Enterprises Limited) was legal and legitimate.

“The North Queensland Export Terminal is an Australian company owned by a private trust and all of its financial arrangements comply with Australian law.

“NQXT is a multi-user terminal and Adani Mining Pty ltd is one of more than nine major long-term customers of NQXT. As part of any long term take or pay contract for accessing the port infrastructure such as NQXT, users typically provide credit support in order to secure their obligations. In this case, as fully disclosed, Adani Mining Pty Ltd paid NQXT a ‘security deposit’ to secure its obligations under the long term take or pay contract. The amount was not ‘charged’ as incorrectly alleged in the report.

“This is another example of how the Hindenburg report has purposefully misrepresented the facts to malign the reputation of our business for the financial benefit of its authors.”

Adani’s history, however, sets it up for opposition. Its founder Gautum Adani has become incredibly wealthy very quickly. Before this latest attack he was probably the world’s third richest man.

His rise coincided with the rise of India’s current Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The two are said to be close so already Adani has political opposition at home and a mythology that can be spread about his rise.

How will Adani deal with this latest attack? Like it always does: build a wall around itself and defy expectations.


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