The government has plans to form a broadcasting regulator which will cater to TV channel registrations, licences and ratings. The industry is not amused
The Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), an organisation set up by advertisers to oversee television audience measurement and ratings for broadcasters, will most probably be in place by next month. However, the government has decided to form a different broadcasting watchdog which will cater to registrations, licences and ratings. So is it time for the TV industry to get its act together?
At a conclave in Mumbai on 11 June 2010, LV Krishnan, CEO, TAM Media Research, said, "In our last meeting with the ministry last week, they did mention forming of a broadcasting body like TRAI to monitor the ratings and licences given to channels, in the near future. We need to work faster as the government has (alternative) plans."
TAM has certain guidelines to ensure that its sample TV ratings are measured accurately. It is in favour of working with the government as long as the intervention isn't too blatant.
"The government can surely help if they don't take an anti-industry stance. It can play a vital role in aiding or at least helping in reducing the taxes imposed on the expensive equipment required for measurement," said Mr Krishnan.
Does the industry feel that the government's intervention is required? "Actually there is a vested interest of the government (in intervening in the ratings of TV channels). DD believes that whatever ratings are done by TAM are under-measured," said Paritosh Joshi, CEO of Star CJ India. Sam Balsara, chairman, Madison World, agrees, "By regulation we mean self-regulation and not government intervention. Our fear is that if government gets involved, vested interests will also be involved because many members of Parliament also own channels."
The industry's inability in creating a responsible body to cater to ratings and licences has been hampering its own growth. The advertising industry is an almost Rs22,000-crore market whereas the TV ad market is only about Rs9,000 crore.
What is the main reason? "As far as ad agencies and advertisers are concerned, these kinds of conflicts are not persistent. And more than anything else the TV industry is dependent on advertising more than ratings," said Mr Balsara.
Broadcasters still argue that ratings done by TAM and other agencies are accurate because the goal is clear-measurement of viewership to help them work towards creating better content. As Mr Krishnan said, "As complexity of measurement increases, industry involvement also becomes essential. If the industry comes along and works hand-in-hand, we can work in a much better fashion." Unfortunately, the industry doesn't have a plan or blueprint of what the solution can be. Coming back to where we started-is government intervention really required?
ICICI Pru has launched an index fund based on the highly volatile Nifty Junior
Fund houses are in a race to launch index funds to shore up their assets under management (AUM). The latest to join is ICICI Prudential Mutual Fund which has floated a new open-ended fund named Nifty Junior Index Fund. The new fund offer (NFO) opened on 10th June 2010 and closes on 21st June 2010. ICICI had launched ICICI Pru Index Fund in February 2002. The scheme is benchmarked against the S&P CNX Nifty.
Over the past decade, there have been only about 20 index funds. But suddenly in the last few months, four new index funds have hit the market. Taurus Mutual Fund launched Taurus Index Fund; IDFC Mutual Fund introduced the passively managed IDFC Nifty Fund in April 2010; and in May 2010, IDBI Asset Management Company (AMC) launched IDBI Nifty Index Fund as its first fund offering.
ICICI Pru's fund will be benchmarked against the CNX Nifty Junior Index and will invest 90% of its corpus in the underlying Nifty Junior Index stocks and 10% in debt and money market instruments. The CNX Nifty Junior consists of 50 stocks and represents about 12% of the free-float market capitalisation as on 31 December 2009.
The scheme carries a 0.25% exit load if redeemed or switched less than seven days after investing. Investors can choose growth or dividend option. The Fund bears a maximum annual expense of 1.50%, depending on the corpus of the fund.
Index funds are supposed to exactly replicate their benchmark and outperform most actively managed funds.
Most of the index funds are benchmarked against Nifty or Sensex. The Nifty Junior index is much more volatile than these two main indices. Nifty Junior rises sharply in a bull run and falls as sharply when the market crashes. From the bottom of October 2008 to the peak of April 2004, the Nifty was up 113% whereas the Nifty Junior was up 206%. Earlier, the Nifty Junior had crashed 73% from January 2008 to October 2008 while the Nifty had declined 61% in the same period.
The Fund will compete against the much cheaper 'Junior BeES' launched by Benchmark Mutual Fund, which launched India's first mid-cap index fund in the year 2003.
If a company does not want to adhere to the proposed rule of a minimum public holding of 25%, SEBI cannot do anything about it
Indian capital markets have always been a joke. Anyone can list. All you need is a business plan or a friendly merchant banker. And you start with a 10% dilution at stage one and after a few years, the promoter holding can be zero. No one will know.
Our stock exchanges have absolutely no gate-keeping, with regulators generally not having a clue about anything. It is a travesty that companies like National Mineral Development Corporation/ Minerals and Metals Trading Corporation (NMDC/MMTC) are given the status of 'listed' companies, with a handful of shareholders. Our stock exchanges are a great place for raising venture capital (VC) and have been the principal reason that venture capitalists find it tough to get decent deals in India.
Anyone can list at any price on the stock exchanges. And the processes are designed to hide things from the investors and also make sure that the investor never gets time to read anything about an initial public offering (IPO). Hence, one fails to understand why the finance minister (FM) wants to tinker with the stock markets. Surely, the stock markets are supposed to serve the interests of the issuers and the bankers. The investors do not mind manipulated prices nor do they care a fig about it.
Our octogenarian finance minister mentions that the move to increase public shareholding to 25% will deter price manipulation. There, he is mistaken. Any share price can be manipulated, if one has enough money. There are many listed companies which on paper have more than 25% holding with 'non-promoters' and included in the 'public' category, but in reality happen to have benami holdings which are included in the public category. So, this move in no way will put an end to manipulation of share prices.
The latest diktat of having a 25% public holding is one more joke. It is a rule that cannot be complied with and if a company or promoter does not want to comply with it, SEBI cannot do anything about it. Yes, they can threaten to not give permits to new entrants, but soon they will relax these, with several catches.
The first demand will come from the PSU undertakings. When the regulator does not understand what the markets are all about, he is but a tool in the hands of industry and investment bankers. After having debased the concept of 'listing' it does not make any sense to put in new entry barriers. After you have given permission to companies to list with minimal free float, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) cannot deny the continuance of listing by executive action.
I would rather urge a carrot-and-stick policy to encourage broader public participation in businesses. For instance, one or more of the following steps could have been looked at:
i) Shifting of companies with less than 25% public holding to the Over The Counter (OTC) exchange. This will preserve some sanctity for a stock exchange (this will also give some life to the OTC exchange);
ii) To start with, ensure that stocks where the public holding is below 25%, cannot be traded in the forward and options (F&O) segment;
iii) Deny inclusion of such illiquid stocks into any sort of index;
iv) Increase the fees payable to the exchanges/regulator by such companies;
v) Restrict trade in these stocks on cash basis only.
vi) Permit open market sale of promoter holdings through block deals, with institutional buyers (in fact this is the typical route that has been used by many promoters to dump their shares);
vii) Insist on a minimum of 100,000 shareholders with a minimum holding of 1,000 shares each, for permission to be listed on the main board of an exchange. Otherwise, the OTC is always there for the illiquid companies. (I recall that the NYSE used to have this criterion);
viii) Have a higher rate of taxation for companies that do not have 25% non-promoter holding. However controversial it sounds, it is the only way to ensure compliance. Once this is done, suddenly promoters will cease to worry about market timings for dilution of equity.
The idea is that these companies are encouraged to dilute. SEBI is foolish in prescribing a 5% per year dose of dilution. That simply will not work. A promoter will sell only when he gets a price that he is happy with. Market conditions do not remain stable for any length of period. Hence, you cannot force disgorgement.
An interesting fallout will be what happens where the promoter has gone in for increasing his shareholding and reduced free float. Similar will be the case in companies, which have gone in for buyback and reduced the free float. Many MNCs have gone in for buyback with a view to delist. How can a regulator force them to disgorge once again?
The other fallout will be the argument of experts that the markets cannot absorb so much. It will nail the argument that India has a vibrant investor community, when the truth is that it is a shrinking universe. Listing has become a joke with the permission of this anachronism called 'Qualified Institutional Placement' (QIP) issuance, warrants to promoters, preferential issues, etc.
It is interesting that the regulators find a way of cutting their own noses to spite their faces, time and again!