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Richest Asian Gautam Adani Battered in Stock Market Rout

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The Pulse | Economy | South Asia

Richest Asian Gautam Adani Battered in Stock Market Rout

U.S.-based Hindenburg Research accused the billionaire businessman, who is said to have close ties to India’s prime minister, of “pulling the largest con in corporate history.”

Richest Asian Gautam Adani Battered in Stock Market Rout
Credit: Facebook/Gautam Adani-Adani Group

Asia’s richest man, Gautam Adani, saw his companies shed $68 billion in market value after short-selling firm Hindenburg Research accused him of “pulling the largest con in corporate history,” triggering a massive sell-off of Adani stocks.

The report last week from U.S.-based Hindenburg attacked India’s second-largest conglomerate for alleged stock price manipulation and fraud just as the group began a share offering meant to raise $2.5 billion.

Adani, 60, has since slid from a ranking of being the world’s third richest man to the 11th, as his net worth shrank more than $30 billion to an estimated $84 billion, according to Bloomberg’s Billionaire Index.

Son of a middle-class family in Ahmedabad in western India’s Gujarat state, Adani quit college to become a diamond trader in Mumbai, India’s financial capital. In the 1980s, he started importing plastics before establishing Adani Enterprises, which traded in everything from shoes to buckets. It remains his flagship company.

India opened up its economy in the 1990s and a new middle class emerged as tens of millions of people escaped poverty and the economy boomed, prompting Adani to bet on infrastructure and coal.

Adani’s first big project, the Mundra port in Gujarat, opened in 1998 and is now India’s largest. Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Ltd. is India’s biggest private port operator. Within a decade, Adani became India’s largest developer and operator of coal mines. It has expanded to Australia and Indonesia and, according to Adani Power’s website, is on track to be “one of the largest mining groups in the world.”

Adani companies operate airports in major cities, build roads, generate electricity, manufacture defense equipment, develop agricultural drones, sell cooking oil, and run a media outlet.

Despite his fossil fuel roots, the billionaire’s Adani Green aims to become the world’s largest renewable energy player by 2030.

Adani’s net worth shot up about 2,000 percent in recent years as share prices for his listed companies soared.

His critics say much of his success stems from his close ties to the government and to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has at times campaigned using an Adani jet. They have accused the government of adjusting bidding rules to make it easier for Adani to win contracts to operate airports, for example. The company denies this, saying contracts were won fairly through a transparent process.

Before Modi took office, Adani was friendly with the rival Congress Party, which governed Gujarat state where many of his early projects began. Adani has been “close to every politician in power,” R. N. Bhaskar, a journalist who wrote a biography on Adani, told The Associated Press.

Adani’s supporters say he has cleverly aligned the group’s priorities with those of the government by investing in key industries like renewable energy, defense, and agriculture. And his projects overseas, in strategically important countries like neighboring Sri Lanka, help New Delhi compete with rival Beijing in the region.

Companies in the Adani Group lost about $68 billion, as estimated by Bloomberg, after Hindenburg Research issued its report last week. The short-selling firm says it spent two years investigating the Adani group and concluded the seven Adani-listed companies were overvalued, with an “85% downside risk.” The report cited information from former Adani executives, thousands of documents, and other research.

The main allegations against the conglomerate include stock price manipulation and accounting fraud, among other abuses. The report alleges the Adani Group has used offshore shell companies linked to Adani’s family to drive up share prices. It posed 88 questions for Adani to answer.

Five-year-old Hindenburg, run by Nathan Anderson, drew attention in 2020 when it accused electric vehicle maker Nikola of lying and misrepresenting its technology. Nikola’s founder was found guilty of fraud last year.

The Adani group has dismissed Hindenburg’s allegations and issued a 413-page report that rejected its questions, saying none of them were “based on independent or journalistic fact finding.” Adani’s response included documents and data tables and said the group has made all necessary regulatory disclosures and has abided by local laws.

Hindenburg respond by saying Adani had answered only 26 of its 88 questions and failed to address many of the issues it raised.

Adani has said it was considering taking legal action. Hindenburg welcomed the idea, saying a U.S. legal challenge might give it access to documents related to Adani’s business dealings.

Hindenburg’s report raised concerns of wider problems and prompted investors to dump Adani Group shares. Since January 25, the flagship company, Adani Enterprises, and others in the group have plunged by as much as 20 percent in a single day.

Some analysts said if the issues raised by Hindenburg were found to be true, that could hurt financial institutions and banks the group has borrowed from.

But Aveek Mitra, founder of Aveksat Financial Advisory, says he believes the situation will only cause “a few days of turmoil.” Hindenburg has raised important questions about the valuations of Adani stocks, but it doesn’t mean its entire business or assets are “a sham,” he said.

Adani Enterprises’ share offering was fully subscribed as of late Tuesday, suggesting the company still enjoys support. Still, shares in three Adani companies were down between 5 to 10 percent.

“If shares continue to plunge, Adani as a businessman will need to take that into consideration and see where and how to next invest,” said Mitra.

“It could also increase scrutiny since lenders may require more assurances which could make the company more careful,” he said. “But whether this is a setback or a temporary blip for Adani, that is the billion dollar question.”