Mumbai-based investment research firm Ambit Capital, which has made a name writing unflattering reports, has become the first outside voice to rake up the Infosys Panaya acquisition issue. The firm, has moved the stock from a “Buy” rating to “Under review” implying that they are now revisiting their recommendation, valuation and estimates on the stock following recent events. In its one-page report, Ambit has sought answers regarding a probe report which has ostensibly exonerated the management of any wrong doings on the $200 million Panaya acquisition.
Ambit joins a bunch of founders led by ex-chairman Narayana Murthy who want to see the report on the Panaya deal. The report itself is an outcome of an independent investigation after an unnamed whistleblower alleged that key Infosys employees made monetary gains in the Panaya deal. Ritika Suri, an executive involved in the deal resigned from company shortly after the report gave a clean chit to the management.
One of the questions that Ambit, therefore obviously asks is why did Suri quit if there was no wrong done? Chances are she waited till she was proven not guilty, choosing to finally walk away from all the trauma she had to suffer for doing her job. But, Ambit, tries to drill home the point that Infosys, by not making the report public, isn’t behaving like it usually would – by making complete disclosure to its investors. It shows that traditionally, Infosys has disclosed more than the statutory requirements require it to, setting a high pedestal for corporate governance. It lists out 20 such parameters in its report where Infosys gave out more details in its balance sheet than TCS and Wipro. Not doing so now despite a high decibel demand from promoters/investors isn’t its usual self, summarises Ambit.
On its part, Infosys communication on the report has fallen short of expectations. All it said was the report found nothing wrong. Says Amit Tandon, founder and MD of Institutional Investor Advisory Services, which works on investor issues: “It is naïve for Ambit to ask for the entire report to be put in the public domain as it may contain several thousand company emails and other sensitive facts. But, Infosys needs to put up an elaborate summary on the findings of the report, especially if it found any short comings in its M&A expertise or otherwise. In this case, it is better to err on the side of detail rather be quiet.”
Sell reports or putting a stock on watch even by well known research firms need not be disastrous for a company, but Ambit’s timing is surely going to hurt Infosys. In the last three years, Infosys has slipped from being the most sought IT firm by foreign institutional investors. Though brokerages like Motilal Oswal have a buy on the stock, sellers have outnumbered buyers among this class of investors in recent times.
Finally Ravi Venkatesan, who was appointed as co-chairman in April, is putting out a changed view of how he looks at promoter shareholders like Murthy. In a recent interview to a television channel, Venkatesan said that promoter shareholders are not normal shareholders, a volte-face from what the company said under chairman R Seshasayee.
In the last two years, soon after Infosys CEO Vishal Sikka put out his ambitious 2020 plan (to achieve $20 billion in revenue by 2020), he and the Infosys board behaved like a cohesive unit in fighting allegations against it. The 2020 target is now shelved and the new co-chairman is suddenly more visible and vocal than Seshasayee, who will retire in May 2018. Venkatesan, so far, has fallen short of being openly critical about Sikka’s performance. Today, the Infosys stock went up 4.5% thanks to a buy back announced by the company. But, if Ambit’s report voices unsaid concerns of other institutional investors and accelerates selling pressure on the Infosys stock, Sikka will surely have another problem to deal with.