India’s richest man has seen his personal wealth shrink by billions in less than a week.
Gautam Adani, head of the conglomerate Adani Enterprises, has suffered his seven publicly listed companies losing at least $100bn (£81bn).
On 25 January, US-based short seller firm Hindenburg Research published a 100-page report on the Adani Group accusing it of “pulling the largest con in corporate history”.
After a two-year investigation the report accuses the companies of stock manipulation and accounting fraud.
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It says the family-led businesses and their shell companies lend money to each other to launder it and cook their books.
In India it has set off a cataclysmic cycle of events for the company wiping out billions of dollars.
Its shares tanked by almost 40% following the allegations and the company appears unable to stop the haemorrhaging.
The Adani Group released a 413-page rebuttal saying this was a “calculated attack on India” and warned of legal action against Hindenburg.
In response, Hindenburg said the Adani Group “predictably tried to lead the focus away from substantive issues and instead stoked a nationalist narrative”.
“India’s future is being held back by the Adani Group, which has draped itself in the Indian flag while systematically looting the nation,” it added.
Global markets affected
Meanwhile, the fallout is reverberating through global stock markets.
Credit Suisse Group AG and Citigroup Inc’s wealth arm have stopped accepting securities of Gautam Adani’s firms as collateral for margin loans.
The group exposure to Wall Street amounting to $9bn (£7.3bn) is also under the spotlight.
Dismissing concerns of financial health, Mr Adani said: “Our balance sheet is very healthy with strong cashflows and secure assets, and we have an impeccable track record of servicing our debt.
“This decision will not have any impact on our existing operations & future plans.”
On 27 January, the group had a follow-on public offering of $2.5bn (£2.03bn), which only got fully subscribed on the final day when India’s richest industrialists invested to shore up support.
A day later the company called the FPO off citing market volatility and those investors will be repaid.
Indian authorities investigating
India’s regulatory body, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), is examining the rout of Adani Group shares and looking into any “possible irregularities” in the FPO.
While the Reserve Bank of India has launched an investigation into the exposure of banks to the Adani Group.
Last year Fitch Group’s CreditSights published a report warning that the Adani Group is “deeply overleveraged”, warning there was the potential to spiral into a massive debt trap.
Founded by Mr Adani in 1988 as a commodity trading group, the conglomerate covers power generation, coal mines, cement, telecoms, media and green energy. It controls the largest port in India and is the biggest airport operator.
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Mr Adani is a long-time ally of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, both hailing from the western state of Gujarat.
Mr Modi was chief minister of the state from 2001 until he was elected leader in 2014. Mr Modi has in the past openly displayed his friendship with Mr Adani.
Since 2014 the Adani Group footprint expanded across India winning several government tenders and infrastructure projects. This period also coincides with Mr Modi’s first term in office.
Over the last three years the company has had dizzying growth.
Since March 2000 the stock prices of the seven Adani companies have rallied between 250% and 4,100%.
World’s third richest man and Modi’s friend
Last September Mr Adani edged out Amazon’s Jeff Bezos as the third richest man in the world with a personal wealth of $150.6bn (£122bn).
India’s opposition parties have accused Mr Modi of crony capitalism and favouring Mr Adani.
Meanwhile, Mr Adani’s reach extends beyond India to a controversial mega coal project in Queensland, Australia.
Environmental activists and indigenous groups have been up in arms against the project and began a “Stop Adani” campaign forcing investors to withdraw.
What is worrying most analysts is the risk and vulnerability of Indian institutions and its banking system.
The depth of the collapse in confidence and such widespread contagion has exposed the country’s vulnerability.
If $100bn can be wiped from a company backed by the nation’s leaders in less than a week, then a serious course correction is needed.