Protectionism Ahead?

Last week Bank of America withdrew offers to MBA students on H1 B visas. As a recipient of TARP money from the federal government the bank had to comply with a clause that Congress had inserted into the TARP bill that prohibits TARP recipients from hiring foreign workers with work permits.

Elsewhere, Congress passed the Stimulus Bill after inserting a “Buy American” clause in it that compels the stimulus money to be spent on American steel.


Career Advice to the IIM Ahmedabad Graduating Class

1395668938_dc7ce824e6_mLast week I was at IIM Ahmedabad for my 20 year reunion. For two days and three nights we had non-stop fun reliving all the special memories from our times at IIM. Reunions, some say, can be quite a let down. Your classmates and you went down different walks of life, they’ll say, and you don’t quite have that connection anymore. Our reunion was, if possible, even better than the high expectations we came with. The reconnection was instant, as if no time had gone by. Needless to say, a good time was had by all.

During one of the few serious sessions on campus, we talked to some of the current PGPs and PGP Xs about careers and career choices. (PGP is the Post Graduate Program, which is the regular two year MBA. PGP X is a 12 month program akin to an Exec MBA). Given how bleak the job scene out there looks, and how concerned the students were, I thought I’d do a post for IIM A students graduating this year or the next.


Satyam – the Larceny Scenario

Investigators looking into the fraud that has been called India’s Enron have found a “maze” of about 300 companies related to Mr. Raju that were used to “siphon” as much as $1 billion in cash from Satyam, said a senior official involved in the inquiry, who was granted anonymity to discuss developments in the case.

A New York Times report indicates a simple answer to what happened to Satyam’s missing billion dollars – larceny. The performance of the company – revenues, margins – were not systematically overstated over many years as Ramalinga Raju claimed they were. Instead, the promoters were stealing. This simpler explanation is something I have suspected all along.

Ironically, if this is true, this is good news for Satyam. On many fronts.


Satyam Operating Margins Look Real


I pulled this chart together on our very own research platform just to see if there were any signs in the operating margins that Satyam was managing earnings. I found none.

The comparables to Satyam (SAY) are Infosys, Wipro and Cognizant. Satyam’s range of the operating margins is just fine. The seasonality caused by the annual influx of trainees through campus hiring is also there. I couldn’t figure out why the dip was a quarter later than Infosys but there is probably a rational reason for that.

Also present is the uptick in margins in the last couple of quarters, which is presumably because of the favourable movement in exchange rates.

Managed earnings should leave some fingerprints. I couldn’t find any. So either Raju and co were very, very careful with how they were managing the earnings. Or, they weren’t managing earnings at all and the money has actually gone missing.

Satyam Next Steps

India’s regulatory authorities have made a great start on the Satyam accounting fraud scandal. The two bodies that would have regulatory oversight over such a situation – the Ministry of Company Affairs and SEBI – are both playing this on the front foot. The Raju brothers the CFO have been arrested and remanded to judicial custody. The Satyam board has been sacked and very quickly a new board is being assembled. So far so good.


Questions re Satyam

While I was out of circulation and not blogging (business trip and vacation) the Satyam saga was unfolding. I remained abreast of what was happening but didn’t post anything on it. It’s been well covered by other bloggers and the media in general both in India and abroad. So I won’t bother adding my opinion except to say that if India Inc. is to redeem itself, what happens from here on out is what matters. The Rajus, on the other hand, cannot redeem themselves. Nor can the independent directors, unless they publicly say that critical information was withheld from them.

But I have several questions about the whole affair. Some of them are rhetorical, others are real questions. So if you know the answers or where I can read up on material, please let me know.


Incentive Compensation as a Risk Factor has a post highlighting a Risk Factor from the 10Q of Anworth, a company that invests in agency backed mortgage securities. Here’s how it reads

In the risk factors section of its first quarter 10-Q filed Friday, Anworth gives this warning: “In an effort to earn greater amounts of incentive compensation under their Employment Agreement[s], as our executive officers evaluate different mortgage-related assets for our investment, there is a risk that they will cause us to assume more risk than is prudent.” (Anworth has included a version of this disclosure in its filings for the past couple of years, but the latest Q throws in some new language about the structure of a certain bonus pool.)

Now its all great that Anworth is making full disclosure on what it thinks are truly its risk factors. But really, calling compensation policy a risk factor is like saying “Our management practices are deficient. And now you’ve been warned.” This begs the question – why don’t they fix the incentive compensation?

On the other hand, one can rightfully ask, why aren’t other companies giving “uncontrollable executive greed” as a risk factor? Its not like everyone else but Anworth has found the answer. The problem is far too deep set. It is a difficult problem to solve. I have written about this before as well here and here.

One of the topmost problems that the Capital Markets will have to solve as it digs itself out of the hole it is in is executive compensation. Disclosing it as a risk factor isn’t enough.

Setting Targets or Expectation Setting

Indian Finance Minister P. Chidambaram in an interview about India’s slowing GDP growth, to the Wall Street Journal says,

“We must aim at 9%, as I will, and we must be happy if it’s between 8% and 9%.”

This begs the question “Is he setting a goal for GDP growth for the country or is he managing expectations?”

A goal, IMO, is something that is ‘actionable’, i.e. you and your team can take actions which help you achieve that goal. Much like a goal in football, you can’t score one by just being on the field.


I am Never Wrong – Just Ahead of My Time

After last week’s post, here’s another one based upon a gem from Nassim Taleb’s Fooled by Randomness. It’s called the bias against self-contradiction and it goes like this – if you make a bet that the market will go a certain way and it doesn’t, you tend to stick with your bet and your viewpoint a good bit longer than you would have, had you been a perfectly rational person. Over time, this will likely lower your performance as an investor. According to Taleb, some investors that he has great respect for – people like George Soros – change their minds often.


BCCI and Indian Cricket – Monopolies are Never Good

Last week the returning winners of the Twenty20 World Cup, jammed up traffic in Mumbai. Sharad Pawar, the BCCI President and also Union Minister for Agriculture, cancelled all his appointments to receive the Indian cricket team. There was a big press conference, at which he made a speech that was, it seems, more a political speech than anything else.

And why not? He is a politician in a cricket crazy country. Why shouldn’t he take advantage of the rare occurrence that is an Indian team winning a major championship? Many other politicians in various states had the same idea and showered gifts and cash upon their home state players. Everyone loves a winner.