London/Calcutta, Jan. 31: When India slept, Indian business snapped out of years of stupor and took a giant stride.
Ratan Tata defeated an over-confident Benjamin Steinbruch, chairman of Brazil’s CSN, in last night’s auction for Corus.
“Made in England” automobile parts could soon be on their way to Tata’s car plant in Bengal. In theory, this may appeal to a sense of nationalism in Mamata Banerjee, prime opponent of Tata’s Singur project, a member of the Tata team said in London today.
Although its members were at pains not to sound “cocky”, one did confess: “After Kiran Desai’s Booker win and Shilpa’s in Celebrity Big Brother, this is an Indian hat-trick in London.”
Jingoism aside, Tata’s win over CSN is seen as laying the groundwork for many more Indian acquisitions in the west.
The Brazilians conceded defeat after the ninth round of last night’s auction when their highest offer of 603p per Corus share was exceeded by the Indian counter-bid of 608p.
The $11.3 billion paid for Corus represents the biggest overseas acquisition in the history of corporate India. The takeover means Tata will jump from 56 th place to 5 th in the world ranking of steelmakers with an increased capacity of 23.5 million tonnes, though it will still be a long way behind Arcelor-Mittal.
But the London shootout has whetted the appetite of the Tatas in chasing the 100-million-tonne dream. After the Corus deal was closed, B. Muthuraman, the Tata Steel managing director who kept vigil from Mumbai, told The Telegraph: “As we have been moving along in the last few years, we keep raising the bar. I think it is possible to reach 100 million tonnes.”
The company would look for further acquisitions, Muthuraman said, adding that the Corus deal would not divert resources meant for greenfield projects in India.
Muthuraman also allayed the fears of investors — the Tata Steel stock price plunged today on concerns over the short-term impact of the huge deal on the company’s finances. “We will protect the interest of the shareholders.”
Buying Corus will help Tata add finishing mills in Europe that supply automakers Ford Motor Co and Volvo AB, so it is not fanciful to think Singur will be included in the list, experts pointed out.
Tata, which thought it had the Corus deal sown up last October with an offer of 455p, finally had to pay 608p – and was prepared to go even higher to an undisclosed figure.
The Tatas bought 21 per cent of Corus shares today, post-auction and through a broker “to prevent anyone else coming” in.
Corus officials said today they were satisfied with the Tata takeover as the two companies shared a “synergy” but the British unions expressed serious concern about probable job cuts.
Corus, which was set up in 1999 through the merger of British Steel and Dutch rival Hoogovens, employs 47,300 people worldwide, including 24,000 in the UK at plants at Port Talbot, Scunthorpe and Rotherham.
Community, the trade union which represents the UK steel workers, said it would be seeking urgent talks with Tata to seek reassurance on job security.
Its general secretary, Michael Leahy, said the Indian steel producer was inheriting a profitable, well-run company with some of the most efficient steel workers in the world.
“We are willing to work in partnership to drive forward an investment strategy which allows the UK operations to contribute further to the profitability of Tata,” he pledged. “However, what we are not prepared to accept is the accelerated or slow demise of the UK steel industry. Tata should be under no illusions that we will resist any attempt to achieve this using all the resources at our disposal.”
He added: “We believe that the current Corus UK operations are of vital strategic importance to the UK economy and that large parts of our manufacturing industry are only viable because of it. We would expect the Government to add its voice and support to ensure continued investment in the UK steel industry.”
Tata’s behaviour will be the yardstick by which Indian companies are likely to be judged in the coming year or two.
In the Commons, the prime minister was questioned today about the takeover by a Labour MP, Angela Smith, who has a Corus Engineering Steels plant in her Sheffield Hillsborough constituency: “Will you commit the government to add its voice in support to ensure continued investment in the UK steel industry'”
Blair paid tribute to the Corus workforce, adding: “I can assure you, we will continue to support the investment in our steel industry which remains, obviously, in a difficult competitive atmosphere today internationally. But I know that the Corus workforce are doing their very best to ensure they can compete successfully and safeguard jobs.”
India’s commerce and industry minister Kamal Nath, who happens to be in London, said that when Lakshmi Mittal’s 110-million-tonne capacity is added to the 23.4 million tonnes from Tata and Corus, “India becomes a dominant steel maker”.
The minister was also passing through London last year when Mittal won his battle against Arcelor and was able personally to congratulate the Indian-born tycoon.
“It is a two-way street now,” he said. “Not only is India is seeking foreign investment, but Indian companies are emerging investors in other countries. From a small player, we will now become a big player in the world market. Tata’s win reflects India’s economic and fundamental strength. This means the global perception of India is changing.”
Corus shares rose in value by 7 per cent to 601p in London while Tata Steel’s fell by 10.7 per cent.
Experts in London, who felt Ratan Tata had paid too much, carefully analysed his words today.
“Quite frankly, I do feel it is both taking a short-term and harsh view,” said the Tata group chairman. “In future, somebody will look back and say we did the right thing.”
The unions, too, may be comforted by his comment: “Tata Steel, an Indian steel company, now has global scale and a footprint in Europe.”
Senior management of Corus would remain with the company, he said.
“Investors came in and increased the price,” said Tata, who has little or no profile in Britain. “But we had to pay for getting the company. We had taken a view that we would not go beyond a point. Had we reached that point, we would have walked away.”
Financial experts say Tata won because it fooled CSN into thinking the Indian company would not have enough money to go beyond 580p.