Friday, January 30, 2009

Pop goes Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore surely remains as the most cherished Bengali among all the Bengalis even almost 70 years after his death. Tagore was a poet,lyricist, composer, novelist, short-story writer, playwright & painter . All of them, par excellence. Tagore received a Nobel prize in literature for his book of poems , Gitanjali, in 1913. Any Bengali ,worth his salt (pun not intended), would have to compulsorily go through Tagore's poems or songs as part of his upbringing in childhood. Tagore's songs , also called Rabindrasangeet, when sung with his original music never fail to strike a chord among predominantly Bengali listeners. After the expiry of copyright on Tagore's music from 1st of January 2002, one expected a flood of new compositions of his songs and poems from the present bunch of musicians & popular bands in Bengal. Sadly they were few in number , mediocre scores & not very popular, either.

Now, nearly 100 years after receiving the Nobel prize , a song called "Praan (Stream of life)" has propelled Tagore again to international popularity. Where the hell is Matt (2008), a video posted by Matt Harding on the net features this fantastic song in the background of a globetrotter Matt dancing crazily in 71 countries. This video has been viewed 17 million times on the net as on date. Gary Schyman, the composer of this song & a Tagore fan, also received a Hollywood Music Award, in the 'Best Music Video' category. An 18 year old Bangladeshi singer ( now settled in Minneapolis, USA ), Palbasha Siddique, has lent her angelic voice to the lyrics. Incidentally , Praan (meaning 'life') is from the original "Gitanjali" in Bengali and not from Tagore's Nobel prize winning book of the same name in English.
Click on the play button below to listen to this popular contemporary Rabindrasangeet, Praan. 'Praan' lyrics in Bengali:
Bhulbona ar shohojete
Shei praan e mon uthbe mete
Mrittu majhe dhaka ache
je ontohin praan
Bojre tomar baje bashi

She ki shohoj gaan
Shei shurete jagbo ami(Repeat 3X)
Dao more shei kaan.
Shei jhor jeno shoi anonde

Chittobinar taare
Shopto-shindu dosh digonto
Nachao je jhonkare!
Bojre tomar baje bashi

She ki shohoj gaan
Shei shurete jagbo ami(Repeat 3X)
(lines below are not part of the song but are in the original poem)
Araam hote chinnow korey
Shei gobhirey lao go more
Ashaantir antorey jethai shaanti sumahan.
Although the English Intepretation of this song has been credited by Matt in his FAQ page (What are the lyrics to the song, "Praan," in your 2008 video? ) to verse # 69 in Gitanjali called the "Stream of Life" by Rabindranath Tagore ; it transpires here that the original Bengali poem from which "Stream of Life" gets translated is different from "Praan". Matt then goes on to give a verbatim translation
of Praan (without naming the translator) in the same FAQ page. This translation is more appropriate and goes like this.
I will not easily forget
The life that stirs in my soul
Hidden amidst Death
That infinite Life

I hear you in the thunder

A simple tune
A tune to which I will arise (3x)
And in that storm of happiness
As your music plays in your mind
The whole wide world
Dances to your rhythm
I hear you in the thunder
A simple tune
A tune to which I will arise (3x)

The picture shows Palbasha (meaning "eyelid") recording Praan in the studio with Matt dancing in the background.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Managing the economic crisis to save a political crisis in India.

The Reserve Bank of India's (RBI) quarterly credit policy released today did not have any surprises as both the reverse repo rate and repo rate remained unchanged. While the RBI has finally acknowledged a foregone conclusion that global financial crisis has now affected local economy as the expected decoupling failed to materialise ; it has also correctly predicted that business confidence will continue to remain down for the entire period of 2009. As far as "perceived" unavailability of credit to the commercial sectors and industry is concerned, it has laid the blame squarely on the private sector & foreign banks' stinginess with credit as well as on the drying up of international borrowings.
With such an accurate reading of the situation and being aware of the significance of private sector banks, foreign banks etc on our relatively smaller economy, it is doubly exasperating that the repo rates have not been cut. While economists(like Jehangir Aziz of JP Morgan) have been suggesting a restructuring of the credit portfolio of the banks in order to ease the cost of capital for the industry that would benefit out of the rate cut; banks , in spite of revised targets, now will be more reluctant to release credit knowing that 2009 will be a bad year for growth & returns.
It is true that rate cuts need not accompany the credit policy but when the diagnosis is that of a sick economy in the coming year ; it is probably logical to start the medicine of rate cuts now. Maybe RBI is waiting for an out-of-the-way event like a bank collapse or huge job cuts to happen in order to to justify its rate cuts.
Any cut in repo rate will effectively have a downward effect on the deposit rate of the banks to the extent that rates may slip below that of the small savings schemes and hence a possible flight of consumer savings to those schemes. Coupled with the credit crisis, that can definitely leave the PSU banks with dirty balance sheets in about a year's time. More importantly, with the general elections round the corner in April , it is quite possible that the Indian government will also not like to tamper with the small savings rates at this stage although RBI has officially denied any relation of small savings rates with its own repo rate. Based on an optimism that nothing "untoward" will occur in the economy till the elections are over, RBI may have again chosen to defer the inevitability of rate cuts.
Hopefully, RBI is right!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

War & the Left.

If 'left' is right about their anti-WAR stance, then surely (advent of ) WAR (always ) determines who (is) 'left'.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The last minutes of a lonely Airship.

Picture by ms4jah

This is an Amazing picture. It speaks more than a thousand words.

However, to say it short.........
15th January, 3.30 p.m, New York
A US airways plane gets both its engines on fire after a flock of geese just flew into it immediately after lift-off from New York. Chesley Sullenberger, the pilot, decides as quickly to abandon the plane into the adjacent Hudson river instead of returning to the airport. The 200 tonne plane floats on the icing water of Hudson . 161 passengers and crew scamper out onto the wings & rubber chutes in minutes before rescue ferries arrive by the dozen. The rescue operation is 100% successful and over in 7- 10 minutes before the plane sinks on one side & gets pulled downstream by the strong under current. Finally it had to be towed back to shore by a crane on a barge.

From starting a flu epidemic to downing jet planes , the ability of 'birds' surely deserve a place on the list of WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction).

Monday, January 12, 2009

Can Satyam handle its own future?

As the three wise men (a banker , an accountant and an IT professional) appointed by the Ministry of Company Affairs ,settle into the boardroom of Satyam for unearthing the alleged accounting fraud; speculations about the future of Satyam Computers and its 53000 employees mount.

One optimistic view is that as finally expected, the various divisions of Satyam Computers will get merged into one or more of similar entities with 15-20% job losses,if at all. After all, its a manpower-intensive business, difficult to replace in a short time and hence clients would like the business to continue as long as they think that the leadership and management is going to get the company cruising forward.

The pessimistic view says that is precisely the problem with Satyam. In order to move an enterprise forward , one would require a good amount of cash in the system. Quality of leadership will have no effect if the liquidity-gap of Rs. 70 billion rupees, (or more as the actual amount will reveal itself once new auditors are appointed, ) is not met with. Which bank will lend money at a time when the basic "trust" has been damaged in the ability of the company to pay it back? A cash starved company sucks everything in and spews out nothing in return, in general.

Will the government bail-out Satyam ? Should they, actually? Logically no, if there is a potential investor who is willing to shell out money for continuing the business and not for stripping it of its assets. To prevent inappropriate investment as in the latter, the government could facilitate the smooth handing over of the bankrupt business to a responsible investor. To make that happen, the 3 wise men should appoint top-notch IT entrepreneurs ,as their colleague in the board. These will be the ones, who can regain confidence of the clients as well as the bankers in the vision that they paint for Satyam computers in the future.

Painting a picture of the new Satyam will not be easy as the picture now remains very murky. When the top leader of an organisation is accomplished in fudging accounts, the culture surely would have sought its depth as well as width in the hierarchy below. If not overtly, for sure in a covert manner. This is an industry where the top leaders earn compensations in crores of rupees for precisely doing nothing. This is a country, where the promoters of large family-managed companies keep spare, unaccounted cash with themselves for taking care of uncertain factors in the environment. They also appoint auditors to help them evade tax and treat the process or the system as something that is not sacrosanct & easy to manipulate .

The 'knowledge economy' unfurled by the new India of IT whiz kids have expanded the knowledge of all corrupt stakeholders of the economy to create wealth out of favours granted, coercion exercised, protectionism and now,accounting frauds. The power of networking has worked wonders for not leapfrogging an innovative, entrepreneurial culture but for currying economic favours from 'eminent' nodders in positions of power.

The case of Satyam is that of a fish that surfaced on the shore to find the water receding away to the ocean. While bailing out this fish will be easier for the government, there is a fear that the government will do precisely nothing to clear the ocean of a culture of corrupt business practices. On the other hand, allowing the banks, clients ,investors and employees to form an interim task force for taking Satyam forward could be the harder & better way that should include taking temporary salary cuts.
Picture Source:Bigpictures' blog

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Fudging of Accounts: Satyam's modus operandi & the IT industry

What exactly did Satyam Computers fudge in the books ?
  1. Overstated Revenue

  2. Overstated Profits

  3. Overstated Cash & Bank balance

  4. Understated liability

The above would require , at least, the following documents to be forged.

  1. Customer completion reports of projects or purchase agreements .

  2. Relevant Invoices raised by Satyam

  3. Bank statements

  4. Bank Guarantees submitted to customers.

Its logical that the to forge the above, Raju would require the support of some of the senior executives in his company in finance & operations . Additionally the scanner should also point to the banks with whom Satyam had accounts to find out Raju's 'friends' in the bank who was helping him with these figures & if there was a corresponding fudging in the accounts of the banks. PWC, the auditors of Satyam will find it hard to explain their non-involvement in this fraud and its but natural that their business should be wound up in the country as soon as possible.

Finally, is Satyam an isolated case in the IT industry? While poring through the figures (click on the attached picture for the details) of last two quarters of 4 major IT companies ( TCS,WIPRO,INFOSYS & SATYAM) it was interesting to observe that one other company besides Satyam showed exceptionally high growth in Y-Y net sales as well as net profits for quarters ending on Sep'08 & Jun'08 while for the others the figures were relatively nominal . Considering the fact that the IT industry would be facing some hardships on account of exchange rate volatility & recession in USA & Europe over last one year, these figures do appear out of the ordinary. This other company is Infosys. Hopefully SEBI would investigate their accounts and clear them to the satisfaction of general investors in India & abroad.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The four pillars of Indian corporate (mis) governance: A 'true' story from Satyam Computers

A dateline of the story.

29th July : Maytas Infrastructure bags the order for building Hyderabad Metro project on a Build Operate Transfer (BOT) basis for Rs. 120 billion with a guarantee to pay the Andhra Pradesh government a sum of Rs. 300 billion over a period of 34 years. Maytas Infra gets 296 acres of prime land in Hyderabad as part of the deal. The price of its share rises to Rs. 494
21st September : E. Sreedharan, MD of Delhi Metro & a consultant for the project writes to the finance ministry hinting of a big scam. Sreedharan says in the letter, "Here, I would like to caution that the example of Hyderabad Metro is quite misleading as the negative viability gap funding has resulted solely on account of 296 acres of prime land being made available to the BOT operator for commercial exploitation. This is like selling family silver. Apart from the fact that this might lead to a big political scandal sometime later, it is apparent that the BOT operator has a hidden agenda which appears to be to extend the metro network to a large tract of his private land holdings so as to reap a windfall profit of four to five times the land price,.....
16th December: Satyam Computers buys 100% stake in Maytas Infra in a move towards unrelated diversification from IT to Infrastructure.
18th December: Satyam cancels the Maytas deal on account of shareholders' opposition who smelt 'nepotism' in the deal as the promoters of both the companies belong to one single family, that of the Rajus. Maytas Infra share price falls to Rs.160.
7th January : Satyam Chairman, Ramalingam Raju resigns after confessing his personal involvement in a fraud amounting to Rs. 70 billion. Satyam scrips drops to Rs.40 from Rs.190 in a single day.

Additional Information :
  1. Satyam is the fourth largest IT company in India with revenues totalling Rs. 110 billion & employing 50000 people.
  2. Satyam is a word of Sanskrit origin & literally means "Truth."
  3. Maytas is Satyam spelled backwards.
  4. Satyam & Maytas both are publicly listed companies from Hyderabad and their promoters belong to one single family,that of the Rajus.
  5. Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC) are the auditors of Satyam.
  6. The board of directors of Satyam had several luminaries including one professor of 'corporate governance' from Harvard,K. Palepu. A silicon valley entrepreneur ,Vinod Dham. And an Indian academic & Dean of 'Indian School of Business, M.R.Rao
Moral of the story : The Indian system of corporate governance relies on the promoter's ability to keep everybody happy. The four pillars (Chaar Minar) of corporate governance chiefly the Auditors, (independent) Directors, Rating Agencies as well as the Regulators will overlook any fraud as long as you can pay them the right price.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Come on you miner for truth & delusion and shine!!

Wishing a happy and prosperous 2009 to all readers .

Title courtesy : Shine on you crazy diamond , Pink Floyd.
Photo courtesy:Lesley Bruce on flickr