SHOGUNS RAISE TAKEOVER DEFENCES 

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By FROM SATISH JOHN in Mumbai
  • Published 8.11.00
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Mumbai, Nov 8 :    Mumbai, Nov 8:  Spooked by the prospect of hostile bids, the old shoguns of business are increasingly adopting the creeping acquisition route to build up their stakes in companies they control. The creeping acquisition mode permits promoters of companies to mop up 5 per cent of the equity capital every year from the market to strengthen their hold on their companies and ward off threats from a growing band of carpetbaggers intent on mounting takeover raids. Marketmen reveal that the Tatas, Raymonds and the Thapars have been consolidating their holdings at a time when the share prices of their group companies have plumbed historic lows on the bourses. Using the downturn in the capital markets as an opportunity to consolidate its stake in core group companies, the Tata group has been scooping up shares from the market in order to attain the 26 per cent threshold - widely regarded as the first rung of safety to thwart corporate marauders. The Tatas, one may recall, had fixed a comfort level of 26 per cent stake in all their core group companies. Confirming this, N A Soonawala, non-executive vice-chairman of the Tata group, said; "The Tata group is very close to reaching 26 per cent in all its core group companies". Speaking to The Telegraph, Soonawala said the Tata group has over the years used the creeping acquisition to consolidate holdings. Asked if the comfort threshold would be raised above 26 per cent, Soonawala, who is also vice-chairman of Tata Sons, said the decision would have to be taken by the Tata Sons board. He also clarified that the group was not buying shares in companies where its holding company had more than 26 per cent. Recently rumours in the marketplace suggested that the Tatas have been buying equity in Tata Chemicals, Tata Tea and Indian Hotels. The Tatas have in excess of 30 per cent equity holding in the three companies. Soonawala's statement effectively scotches these rumours. "We have been buying to consolidate our holding through the creeping acquisition route in Tata companies where our stake is below 26 per cent," he clarified. The holding companies of the Tatas, led primarily by Tata Sons, see the market downtrend as a window of opportunity at a time when the equities of core companies have sunk to their historic lows. An analyst affiliated to a leading FII brokerage here said whenever a hostile bid was launched, the promoters of companies having a significantly lower stake tried to mop up their company shares from the market place. Marketmen also aver that promoters of asset-rich and cash-rich companies like the Thapar group's Crompton Greaves and Vijaypat Singhania's Raymonds are consolidating their holdings. Promoters now can even consolidate holding through buyback, the analyst said. The consolidation allows them to average the opportunity the high-priced acquisitions made earlier in group companies through the preferential route, and at the same time shore up their holdings in Tata companies. Market circles aver that holding companies of Tatas were seen buying small parcels of Tata Steel and Tata Engineering shares . For the previous fiscal ending march 2000, the Tata group had managed to ramp up its shareholding in three of its core group companies - Telco, Tisco and the three Tata Electric Companies (TEC) by almost 5 per cent during the fiscal year 1999-2000 to bring its holdings close to 26 per cent. In Telco, the group's holding has increased to around 22.67 per cent from 17.7 per cent in the previous fiscal, while in Tisco the Tata group's shareholding is close to 24.24 per cent.