Kingfisher: Banking imprudence, crony capitalism, failed regulation & poor corporate governance

While the civil aviation ministry has destroyed Air India, bankrupt Kingfisher which is siphoning away the state-owned carrier’s passengers, is being supported by taxpayers’ money !

The saga of Kingfisher Airlines’ financial problems and its potential bailout exposes ugliest face of Indian business—crony capitalism, breakdown in corporate governance, poor regulation, banking impurdence and complete lack of accountability at all levels. Ironically, it is happening at a time whey Dr Veerappa Moily, minister for corporate affairs made an impassioned speech in Mumbai urging corporate India to have better governance standards, talked about protecting investors and spoke of instituting patriotism awards for Indian companies.

The Kingfisher story, clearly anticipated and documented by Veritas, a Canadian research firm, in September 2011 has played out as anticipated by this hard hitting report. The report titled, ‘A Pie in the Sky’ wrote: UB Holdings (‘UB’ or the ‘Company’), the parent of Kingfisher Airlines (‘KAIR’ or ‘Kingfisher’), is teetering on the verge of bankruptcy, and incidentally, so is KAIR. It also says that the true state of affairs are not reflected in the share price of the company and warned, right then, that investors should “sell the stock and salvage whatever value they can” out of it. Unfortunately, under pressure from our government, Indian bankers were in no position to do the same. Veritas also examines the state of the parent UB Holdings, in a report whose title says it all: “Debt Recast: Deadman Walking …” but more about that later.

What can be a more forthright description of the state of affairs than this? Veritas writes: “We believe that KAIR’s book equity has been wiped out although audited financials pretend otherwise. The airline is burning cash at a rapid rate, we estimate Rs301.10 core ($ 65 million) in the first quarter of 2011-12, is in a business that requires capital perpetually, has no pricing power given six carriers fighting over the major hubs in India, is dependent on the vagaries of the price of oil and the largesse of state-run financial institutions in India, and its parent UB has run out of financial room to accommodate the needs of this capital-starved child.

Moreover, in spite of the so-called debt recast, we believe that once the non-cancelable operating and financing lease commitments of KAIR are included, KAIR’s enterprise value is less than its contractually required cash obligations, implying negative residual equity value for KAIR, as illustrated in Figure 1. (All USD amounts @1USD = Rs46.45, 9th September 2011).”

Despite this situation, in the past five months, banks have done nothing to prevent Vijay Mallya continuing to burn cash as this rate, even to protect their own and ultimately taxpayers’ money. So bad are Kingfisher Airlines’ finances that they will drag down its parent United Breweries, too. But that is if Dr Mallya is ever made to pay and if banks are not forced to swallow his losses. Veritas says: “UB, which has marketable assets of Rs4713.40 crore ($ 1,037 million), compared to guarantees provided on behalf of KAIR of Rs16,853 crore ($ 3,638 million), is also staring into a black hole. We believe that the ill-conceived foray into the airline business has already cost UB shareholders dearly, and that their ownership of India’s premier liquor and beer assets has been sacrificed at the altar of egoistic ambitions.

More importantly, we believe that unless the banking institutions have provisioned judiciously for the debt provided to KAIR—approximately Rs4567 crore ($ 986 million) in loans to Kingfisher in addition to standby letters of credit, etc—it renders the disclosed capital position of the banks unreliable.”

At this stage, a comparison with how the government has behaved with the national carrier Air India is inevitable. Veritas calls calls the “civil aviation ministry involving Air India—the state owned carrier—to pull its act together duplicitous”. It adds: “Our view stems from the fact that it could be on the diktat of the regulatory authorities involving various ministries of the Government of India that an unviable airline, KAIR, which is competing against the incumbent state carrier and siphoning away its passengers on both the domestic and international routes, is being supported via taxpayer-funded financial institutions.

It is not only the financial institutions that are suffering. As per the fiscal 2010-11 auditors report, KAIR was also in default of the dues owed on behalf of its employees to regulatory authorities, which it doesn’t count as debt. As per the auditors of Kingfisher, “Undisputed amounts payable in respect of employees state insurance of Rs0.75 lakh ($ 1,619), provident fund of Rs43.80 lakh ($ 94,564), tax deducted at source of Rs422.98 crore($ 93 million), service tax of Rs10.48 crore ($ 2.3 million), professional tax of Rs2.46 lakh ($ 5,412) (In all cases relating to the years 2008-09, 2009- 2010 and 2010 - 2011) and fringe benefit tax of Rs 4.51 crore ($ 1 million) (balance of tax and interest for the financial year 2008-09). The due dates for these amounts are as per respective statutes.

Clearly, KAIR is funding itself at the expense of its employees and the Indian exchequer, to which it owed tax deducted at source on behalf of its employees of Rs42.29 crore ($ 93 million) as per the 2010-11 auditors report”.

If all these facts were available to a Candian company, why was the civil aviation ministry and the tax authorities so soft on Kingfisher? Here is how blunt Veritas is about the UB group: “We also believe that the current management of UB has lost all legitimacy to run the vast liquor and beer business, and that the financial institutions should auction the collateral to the highest bidder and recoup whatever is left for their respective shareholders”.

Now here is what Veritas says about “Deadman Walking” —the dubious debt recast that is being fed to us, a gullible public. It says, “In our view, the debt restructuring touted by KAIR is nothing to write home about. We believe that non-performing    loans    have    been rechristened/repackaged into subordinated debt, and that Kingfisher has defaulted on its obligations is unquestionable. We do not believe that KAIR’s antics would have found any takers in a responsible credit market and that the airline would have been liquidated by now.
During 2009-10, Kingfisher defaulted in principal repayment of Rs203.10 crore ($ 45 million) and overdue interest of Rs 81.6 crore ($ 18 million), for a total default of Rs284.7 crore ($ 63 million). Between July 2010 and March 2011, KAIR defaulted on interest payments of Rs349.80 crore ($ 77 million). Foregone principal repayments are undisclosed. Therefore, from the beginning of FY09-10 to the end of FY10-11, the airline defaulted on dues of at least Rs634.50 crore ($ 140 crore) to the financial institutions. (Data for the period April-June 2010 is unavailable.)

Clearly, the loans given by the banks to KAIR are impaired and therefore under the pretext of a debt recast, the banks have converted some of these unpaid principal and interest amounts into cumulative convertible preferred shares {Rs755 crore ($ 166 million) of term loans converted into CCPS of 7.5%} and cumulatively redeemable preferred shares {Rs553 crore ($ 122 million) of term loans converted into CRPS of 8% with a maturity of 12 years}.”

Veritas says that Kingfisher treats its auditors with disdain. Specifically, it says, “That management of KAIR is treating its auditors with contempt, and is off-side Indian accounting standards, is clearly evidenced by the following quote from its FY09-10 auditors report”. Well, Dr Moily, over to you now. What will you say to the gaggle of chartered accountants and company secretaries who applauded you this morning about corporate governance standards of one of our most high profile companies? That too one that is run by your colleague in parliament, Dr Vijay Mallya? Will you demonstrate to patriotic Indians that you will act to protect taxpayers’ money?

Veritas had earlier written a damning report on two Reliance companies, where it alleged that Reliance Industries and Reliance Communications (RCom) have short-changed investors by over Rs25,000 crore at RCom and that profits have been inflated at RCom between 2006-2010 by almost Rs11,000 crore. We had reported on this earlier (http://www.moneylife.in/article/reliance-communications-dubbed-poster-child-of-everything-wrong-with-corporate-india/18258.html.

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    COMMENTS

    rajeshpai

    8 years ago

    High time the KFA is allowed to fold up.And the promoter is till arrogant!!The great Dr, Yes Dr Vijay Mallya says all is well and now that FDI in aviation is on, investors are queing up to invest in his airline.He is not worried if his staff are not paid, taxes that he collected upfront from customers are not credited to the government account, banks are not paid as long as he is having a good time.
    And he wants to be paid commission in cash to give his personal guarantee to the company he owns.What a cozy arrangement.

    P M Ravindran

    9 years ago

    Should I laugh or cry? Is it sarcasm or genuine desire, that is expecting Veerappa Moily to act on behalf of the tax payers and in their best interests? I shall cut short my comment by reiterating just one fact that Moily is an Indian Politician!

    Shibaji Dash

    9 years ago

    Sorry. Pl. read TOI in place of Eco. Times in my post 56 minutes ago.

    prviswanathan

    9 years ago

    Yes.God finds the weight of GOLD Kireetam very heavy since looters forces over HIM.Let the public,beurocracy,government,Auditors take morcha to the god for upliftment.
    carrier carried away.subhash.Curruption, thy name is wealth.

    Shibaji Dash

    9 years ago

    Eco. Times & Business Standard ( Kolkata edn.) of 2day Feb. 23rd carries the front page news that KF will not be bailed out.Only Moneylife Team will have the clue. If these eco. dailies are correct, then was it a preventive alert at par with preventive vgilance? Only Moneylife Team will have the clue.

    sibichen

    9 years ago

    It is time corporates realize the need for good corporate governance. All these corporate failures are because of audit failure. Please see http://sibi-cyberdiary.blogspot.in/2012/...

    REPLY

    dayananda kamath k

    In Reply to sibichen 9 years ago

    regarding corporate governance we have a corporate affairs ministry. one of the undersecretary there does not understand or pretends notunderstands english. i have made a complaint about a satyam in one of the nationalised banks . but he has treated same as claim from investor education fund. he had the audacity to send the same reply again.when i brought this to his notice in reply. i have refered this to the then corporate affairs minister sri salman khurshid and asked hime to recover all the salaries paid to him so far because he could not read and understand is being put in such a high post in such a vital department. nor response even it was brought to the notice of sri veerappa moily present incumbent but no action so far.

    dayananda kamath k

    9 years ago

    it is not only the king fisher even the bnks regulator rbi and govt of india finance ministery also are not bothered about auditors as long as they give favourable reports so that public money can be shiffoned with impunity. only when the amount become so hug that it can not be concealed every authority tries to showcase how strong they are by jumping on the hapless people who are earlier protected by them knowingly. even the chartered accountnats instute of india is also behaves in the same way. i have a complaint with them for last 6 years against entire community of bank auditors for their failure to do their basic duties. and with the president of india as to how every financial regulating authority has failed in their constitutional duty for which they are created but no action till date. dupedbrogh

    Ravindra

    9 years ago

    Another Satyam. It must also be investigated what the Director Finance was doing all this time and whether the Auditors have done their job properly.

    Arvind

    9 years ago

    The risk of accepting corruption as part of social fibre is that this sort of stuff increases till society wakes up and begins to cleanse itself.

    Here is another story on this issue that may be worth looking at - http://kaipullai.com/2011/11/28/the-curi...

    Shibaji Dash

    9 years ago

    Sorry, could not end on the right note. It will hence be unethical and grossly misleading to run its advertisement : :"SBI The Banker To The Nation".

    Shibaji Dash

    9 years ago

    Here is a govt. that casts aspersions on the Chief Justice without strengthening the tax law since 2003 when the Azadi Bachao Andolan case was decided involving the same issues as in the Vodafone case in 2012.Here is a Govt that also launches frontal assault on the Chief Election Commissioner.Here is a Govt that donates 1500 crores to a one-man company ( read proprietary concern) that is bankrupt beyond redemption. SBI will finally get net amount of only 1500 crores out of the capital infusion of 3000 ctores when it comes soon. Remember Mallya telling the journalists in front of North Block a few days ago that he met the Minister to discuss fertiliser subsidy ? Mallya's black humour had fallen flat on almost everybody.Now but it is all out in open.

    Shivkumar

    9 years ago

    Try to get a loan of Rs. 1 Crore and see how the bankers will make you go in circles, but ask for Rs.1000 Crores, Bank Chairman himself will come and meet you. Just manage the guy.

    G Ravishankar

    9 years ago

    Comprehensive analysis...unfortunately the Media Barons and biggest newspapers are not following Moneylife's no-nonsense approach. In the morning, we read the "sermons of the CFO" of UB featured on Page 1 !! Possibly that is what you can get from a paper priced at invitation price of Rs.2/-. !!

    REPLY

    Ravindra

    In Reply to G Ravishankar 9 years ago

    When it comes to Advertising Income the guns of the loudmouth media (most of them) fall silent. That is why you find the media full of corruption stories of individuals where there is no Advertising Income to media but silent at most Corporate mismanagement/corruption where the corporates dole out advertising income to media (with few honorable exceptions like Moneylife Foundation.

    Natabar Dey

    9 years ago

    This is what exactly what one of your readers commented in this site on a related article only yesterday! Without the collusion of the bureaucracy and the govt. as a whole, this situation could never have been there.

    King of sad times: The 'Kolaveri di' against Vijay Mallya

    While Jet Airways or Air India did not voluntarily cancel their flights en masse,  Kingfisher seems to be doing it routinely. But what routes the hatred towards Kingfisher's brand ambassador, Dr Mallya himself? 



    With no wind beneath his wings, Dr Vijay Mallya is grounded. The more things worsen, the more menacing his critics look. Which makes us wonder, what is it about the "King of Good Times" that inspires this rage?

    It is not that other airlines have not faced trouble. Even Jet Airways or Air India did not voluntarily cancel their flights en masse, which Kingfisher seems to be doing. This has angered the passengers. But what routes that hatred towards the brand ambassador, Dr Mallya himself?

    Vijay Mallya took up the mantle of "the airline's host" on the behalf of the industry.
    Kingfisher was projected as an airline which would provide first class service at low cost rate. So initially, food was served, television was available in-flight, and of course, there were the air hostesses. But after some years, as aviation turbine fuel (ATF) dues and debts started to pinch, all these services were withdrawn. The King of Good Times was losing his sheen.

    "When you are in the public sphere, you can either keep a low profile or a high profile. And when you keep a high profile, be ready to face the flak" says V Shantakumar, a veteran adman and former CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi in India. "Mallya put his personal stamp all over it. People expected more from him and this brand that he personified. Now, they blame him and his lifestyle for the sorry state of affairs."

    One might remember the Kingfisher Airline's promos, which used to be aired frequently half a decade ago, soon after its operations started. Dr Vijay Mallya appeared in a polished black suit and personally welcomed everyone to his airline. He then went on to say that he "personally selects" the staff; and that he has taught them "to show the passengers the same hospitality that they would be offered as if they are in my own home". You can watch the commercial here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rMvtLKJmCmM

    Dr Mallya's role model was Virgin Group's self-made but larger-than-life head, Richard Branson-who acted as the brand ambassador for his own company. Dr Mallya wanted to be him, and wanted his company to become Virgin. Kingfisher attempted to shine across diverse circuits, like Virgin had done with panache. Kingfisher Airline's staff got a red uniform-remarkably similar to Virgin's; and Dr Mallya got himself a haircut like his idol. Mimicking Virgin's versatility, Kingfisher entered diverse ventures. Unfortunately, Kingfisher was ill-equipped to carry the burden of Virgin's signature flamboyance.

    Dr Mallya's idea of "personal selection" worked out-ample number of flyers will vouch that Kingfisher Airline has the prettiest air hostesses. Then there are the Kingfisher calendar girls. A least of half of India's population would agree that Dr Mallya (and his son) has good taste and overwhelming good fortune.

    But Kingfisher's noble proclamations on hospitality have now become the subject of many jokes. As flights continue to be grounded and reports flow in of actress Ayesha Takia's Twitter war against Kingfisher; whose ground staff allegedly tore off her sister's boarding pass, people now ask, is this the way Dr Mallya treats his guests at home?

    Public perception is a complex phenomenon. Every company, organisation or brand finds a poster boy-and when it fails; his image takes the maximum beating. Our very own prime minister is a fitting example, who has come to symbolise inaction and corruption; despite many people thinking that personally, he is an honest man.

    "It is not that other airlines are without troubles," said an advertising veteran, "Most airlines are making losses and they are yet to repay loans. The problem with Kingfisher is that Dr Mallya himself made it personal. And then there were repeated blunders-defiant comments about bank bailouts, continuous grounding of flights that angered passengers, and now Dr Mallya is blaming income tax department for his troubles.  And amidst everything, Dr Mallya and Kingfisher continue to flaunt themselves. It is very easy for the issue to turn personal in such a situation-because as a subject; isn't a failed personality more dramatic than a failed organisation?"

    Even when the airline ran into trouble, the in-your-face flamboyance continued-the IPL franchise, Formula1 team and other luxurious ventures. The reek of money displeased some, but things worsened because the spheres where Dr Mallya had started to get involved ran into controversies. And Mallya's junior's deriding of Ms Takia's complaint did not help matters.

    The bubble burst in 2011. Moreover, with the nation still seething over rampant corruption and the tremendous loss the scams caused to the airlines, talks of banks bailing out a loss-making private enterprise; owned by a Rajya Sabha member; with public money sparked an outrage. Rahul Bajaj's famous comment made headlines. Dr Mallya however, put up a defiant face and argued how the bank bailout would not use public funds.

    Dr Mallya and his beloved airline now have become a staple for Internet jokes. In Twitter, someone said, "Mallya was going to clear the air in New Delhi. But his flight got cancelled." The focus, even now, seems to be more on Dr Mallya than the workings of Kingfisher Airline.

    It remains to be seen what awaits the troubled airline. Meanwhile, a Facebook user has a tip: "His drinks were with you when you were needed them. Now, drink more and support Vijay Mallya when he needs you."

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    COMMENTS

    makarand patankar

    9 years ago

    vijay mallys selected 95 % of cabin staff means he spent his good times selecting air hostesses. he had no time for cockpit staff,engineering staff,maintainance staff.
    no wonder airline is screwed,as 95% of the time devoted there.

    R Nandy

    9 years ago

    A simple bailout can be reduction in ATF duty so that the airlines are able to reduce the losses and sustain till the economy turns aroud.

    (1)The airlines fares can't be increased beyond a point as the airline seats as a commodity is quite elastic in nature i.e many travellers will move to trains and buses if the fare move up beyond a point and becomes unaffordable.
    So, fare increase can only track GDP growth rate.

    (2)Airline as a sector is bleeding in India. AI and Spicejet is also in terrible shape.Spice jet auditors have also stated that the networth of the airline has eroded considerably.So,reduction
    in ATF duty makes sense as it will help the sector as a whole.

    Carol

    9 years ago

    Dr. Mallya & his son might be flamboyant and copying Mr. Richard Branson of Virgin Airlines, but let's give the duo the chance to redeem themselves. Because this is the litmus test for them to prove that they are not just flamboyant but deeply-rooted in principles of business ethics! Come'on Mr. Mallya, show us that "even the finest of diamonds has to go through rough frictions to make them appear what they become' adage true!!

    Bikram

    9 years ago

    The feeling of resentment is there because no normal citizen of India is ever bailed out by the government (Farmers as a vote bank routinely are and there too is a story but that for later). If someone makes a bad business decision then they should live with it. The growing perception (not untrue) is that profits are private and losses are public.

    Krishnaraj Rao

    9 years ago

    Brilliant analysis.

    Vijay Mallya's visibly extravagant lifestyle choices like yacht and 5-star home, and investment choices like IPL and Formula 1, may have have had a direct connection with the collapse. Diversion of funds from companies is an issue that is nowadays not discussed... seems old-fashioned and a throwback to the bad old pre-liberalization days. However, diversion and corporate fraud exist.

    I feel Mallya may have bled his airline more than just a little. Now he is attracting sympathy. But when Kingfisher Airlines finally dies, his personal fortunes will probably have grown from its carcass.

    Regards,
    Krish

    Shibaji Dash

    9 years ago

    There is substance only in what is stated by Mr. AV Murthy.True Nr. Mallya needs an image make over. Hope he does it.Also he listens to contrarian advice ( which he plentifully got from his friends and executives) too and introspects. He and his scion must realise they have miles to go.

    xanadu

    9 years ago

    If only the same interest father and son showed in the calendar girls, was shown in running Kingfisher airlines, the public would not have been harassed so much.What an inconvenience to the flying public who had confirmed tickets and even issued boarding passes!

    Staff not getting paid their salaries,and when salaries were paid at all, not remitting TDS from such salaries to the government(income tax department), not paying the oil marketing companies for fuel, etc,etc.
    And they have the gall to comment that their troubles are because their bank accounts were frozen.Why not ask the reason for such blocking of accounts?

    These are only the elementary reported irregularities and many more skeletons will tumble out soon.All this when cheering for an IPL team,F1,KF calendar and what not.I suppose people will still remember the drunk Dr VM with blood shot eyes with a liquor glass in hand when an IPL match was being aired.

    Why not bring in some 'spare cash' from the huge family riches and fortune to bail out Kingfisher??All the villas,yachts,private aircraft,girls,booze are from the public money.

    And king of good times can happily roll on.

    High time the high flying VM and Sid came crashing to the ground.Nobody will shed any tear for them.The earlier it happens the better for everyone.We can only hope the banks are not arm twisted to dole out more money to them.Sometimes it is better to allow the sick person to DIE.

    krish

    9 years ago

    V.MALLYA THINKS HE IS RICHARD BRANSON OF INDIA! BUT HE DOESNT EMULATE LATTER'S BUSINESS SENSE NOR PERFORMANCE! MERELY MAKING BIKINI CALENDARS & BEING A CASANOVA DOESNT MAKE U A GOOD BUSINESSMAN!

    EITHER U OUGHT TO ACCEPT YR FOLLIES & SURRENDER OR KEEP FLYING PHONYLY BY BUILDING CASTLES IN THE AIR!

    a v moorthi besides TIHAR

    9 years ago

    any one who is going hammer and tongs at Mallya should pause for a moment that taxpayers like you and me foot the bill for the inefficiency of AI. Every year the Govt sinks about 3000 to 4000 crores to keep the Maharaja flying and will continue to do for another 10 years, so that AI can offe tickets to us at rates which are not sustainable. So KF and other Pvt airlines also follow the suit and the present crisis hits KF and it s a open secret that none of the Airways operating in India are in profit so the day is not far off when they will also go the KF way be it Jet or Spicejet or any one if Govt continues to sink money on AI . one other example how subsidy drives out competition is just to recall what happened to Petrol pumps started by Reliance only to be closed because Public Sector oil companies were selling at about 10-15 Rupees less per litre where as Reliance could not break even. So long live the inefficiency of AI funded by you and me with entire LS supporting the Govt for regular bail out of AI. Another point inspite of such bail out one might of seen news report that AI was even not remitting the service tax collected if any shopkeeper was found doing same he would have been giving company to our spectrum Raja as collecting service tax and not remitting to Govt is misappropriation and punishment for this to any ordinary citizen is he will be trated as SARKARI MEHMAN

    mander

    9 years ago

    a very well written article ...but Bade logon ne kaha hai ..." Aap jo boo ge bohi paaooge " ( What ever you sow , shall you reap ) ..
    he / kingfisher airline ...
    1. lured the staff of existing airlines by paying double their salaries .....
    2. lured the jet airways frequent flyer passengers in particular by doubling their mileage ...
    3.lured the well (only) experienced pilots (commanders ) of indian airlines by double salaries .....
    many many many more things from routes to same flight nos to fight despacthers to slots etc ...etc....etc..
    AND
    he/kingfisher achieved all those
    BUT
    can he/kingfisher ...keep 'em afloat .... so many have already left him ...
    GOOD LESSON ,...........

    bny

    9 years ago

    KF replies to queries sound like coming from a school kid.
    Example: If they unfreeze our Accounts, we can pay salary.

    If we pay salary, pilots will attend duty.

    If they supply aviation fuel, our flights will take off.

    Why not try if liqours can fly the planes?

    malq

    9 years ago

    1) I think Kingfisher gave us pride in being part of an international quality and known Indian product - be it beer or airline.

    2) Somewhere down the line, the road to good intentions was hampered by a combination of greedy political mistakes and opportunist international players hiding behind other "Indian" brands like Jet Airways, SpiceJet, GoAir, even Indigo. At least we knew who owned Kingfisher (and Deccan). Do we know who really owns the other "Indian" flag carriers? And that is important.

    3) Somewhere, deep inside, I think we can expect a sudden turn somewhere. It is easy to beat on someone when they are down - but likely he is not out as yet.

    What bets that the "secret" ownership of one of the other airlines in India could also well be his?

    Just a thought.

    And sure, the beer is great, so the brand lives on . . . globally. AND, let's face it, there are enough people with him who will still be loyal to him, going back decades.

    I expect a turnaround at some stage in the mid-term - 6-18 months, and some smart accounting too.

    Shibaji Dash

    9 years ago

    It is indeed sad that Kingfisher is in this trap.It's also a loss for the travellers.Travelling by Kingfisher was a sheer pleasure- hospitality + departure and arrival in time !It all boosted one's confidence. Liquor business is zero-risk. But not aviation business. May God bless Dr. Mallya( if he has faith in the Almighty).

    Amazon turns the heat on Apple with Fire

    The litmus test of the newly-acquired market presence for Fire will come in the next two quarters as Amazon faces off against the arrival of Windows 8 tablets and the much anticipated iPad3

    Apple might be beginning to feel the heat from Amazon, with the first signs of real competition emerging from the brisk sales of Amazon Fire in the final quarter of 2011. Amazon seems to be leveraging its well-oiled logistics machine and competitive pricing to finally mount a credible threat to the crushing dominance of Apple in the tablet market. The Seattle-based e-commerce giant shipped 3.9 million units during the fourth quarter of 2011 to garner an impressive 14.3% market share as per a recent study by IHS iSuppli. The stellar debut of Fire helped Amazon leapfrog a host of competitors who have collectively struggled to compete with Apple’s iPad since its launch in April 2010. If the trend holds, we could see the emergence of a first real threat to Apple’s incredible dominance of the tablet market.

     
    However, it must be acknowledged that Apple’s iPad shipments faced a certain degree of cannibalisation from the iPhone 4S (37 million units in Q4) and the anticipation of a third version of the tablet later this year. In all Apple sold 40.5 million tablets in 2011, up 168% over the 15.1 million units in 2010, helping expand the fast-growing market. Amazon (6%) sneaked into third place, just behind Samsung which held on to second position for the year with sales of its Tab touching 6.1 million units for a 9% share in the market.

    Another impressive development has been the emergence of Barnes & Noble’s Nook which managed to ship 3.25 million units in the year, for a 5% market share. The relative success of Fire and Nook point to the consolidation of value priced tablets as a credible form of competition to the dominant ways of Apple.

    Clearly, aggressive pricing has enabled Amazon and Barnes & Noble to play a disruptive hand and upset the calculations of the market. First, they forced competitors such as Samsung, RIM (Research In Motion) and Motorola to slash prices—even forcing some to resort to fire sales to dispose inventory. Second, they leveraged a growing ecosystem of free to use apps to lure the price sensitive customer by offering them an alternative that was priced well.

    On the evidence available thus far, one may suggest that Fire and Nook have caused more damage in the Android space more than the iOS market. A true picture will only emerge by the third quarter of 2012—during this time, the intensely competitive tablet market is set to experience the arrival of iPad3, Windows 8-based tablets and an increase in tablets on the ARM architecture.

    While many analysts believe Windows 8 could help vendors mount a fresh challenge to Apple, the evolution of ARM into the tablet product will enable disruptive pricing strategies. “Although several processor architectures could be used to power tablet SoCs, the rich software ecosystem of the ARM architecture built around smartphones is proving to be a key differentiating factor," said Jim McGregor, Chief Technology Strategist for In-Stat.

    In an earlier report this January, iSuppli swam against the tide to express optimism that Nokia is set to revive itself and catalyse the rise of Windows phones. They suggested that driven by instruments such as the Lumia 900, Windows phones would succeed in displacing the iPhone from its position by 2015. If a similar trend were to take play in the tablet space as well, 2012 could be a watershed year for the lucrative tablet market.

    With a slew of launches planned for the rest of the year, these are interesting times for the market. All eyes will remain fixed on the space to see if the disruptive influence of Fire and Nook can continue to hold centre-stage and build on the momentum of their debut. The litmus test of the newly-acquired market presence for Fire will come in the next two quarters as Amazon faces off against the arrival of Windows 8 tablets and the much anticipated iPad3.

    It is game on in the tablet market and 2012 could turn out to be year when the market finally starts mounting a credible challenge to the monumental dominance of Apple.

     

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