Why Are Franklin Templeton’s Investors Being Scared into Voting without Adequate Information?
Franklin Templeton Mutual Fund (FTMF), which sent shock waves in April 2020 by suspending six debt schemes, has written to three lakh unit-holders who invested Rs26,000 crore in these schemes for consent to their winding up. This permission itself is the result hard-fought litigation and an order of the Karnataka High Court and the Supreme Court (SC).
 
But there is something more worrying, almost sinister, this time. While the e-voting is to take place from 26th December to 28th December, there seems to be an orchestrated campaign using social media to push people into signing away their rights without adequate information. FTMF wants unit-holders to vote blind, without any information about the extent of loss, the culpability of its own fund managers, the failure of its trustees, what investors can hope to get back and the payment schedule. 
 
And, yet, there are two kinds of messages that have been unleashed. First, to amplify FTMF’s message, through friendly distributors and other intermediaries on the fund industry’s gravy train, that voting against the winding-up will probably cause a great loss to unit-holders; the second, more stunning, move is to slander organisations that are fighting to make the regulator accountable and get some semblance of oversight over FTMF’s actions. 
 
Will savers wake up to this new danger? It is bad enough that disparate investors are rarely able to put up a credible fight against the legal and money power of large institutions; but if those who do are targeted, using anonymous, orchestrated campaigns, which is the new norm, fewer people are going to come forward to help savers. 
 
Investors need to look at the FTMF developments with this in mind. Let’s recap the facts. The six debt schemes accounted for a third of FTMF’s total AUM (assets under management) of Rs78,000 crore at the end of October 2020.
 
Two important investor associations have openly advised investors not to give their consent, since the battle before the apex court is far from over. A third investor has sent a legal notice to Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI). The battle is now in the apex court which has merely directed SEBI to appoint an observer to oversee e-voting by FTMF. 
 
SEBI has all the powers to act decisively to protect investors’ interest. It has done nothing so far, forcing investor groups to approach the courts and the economic offences wing (EOW) of the police to get results. 
 
This is not a wild allegation. The 24th October judgement of the Karnataka High Court has been scathing about SEBI’s aloofness and complacency. Given that the winding up of six schemes was, admittedly, an ‘extraordinary event’ and the ‘first case in history’ of Indian MFs, the Court noted that the regulator ought to have been more prompt and proactive in order to sustain investors’ confidence. It also said investors would be “justified in their criticism that SEBI was a silent spectator.”
 
On 3rd December, in an appeal hearing, Justice Khanna of SC told SEBI that its regulations are sketchy. "We interpret you very liberally by taking you into consideration and impose penalties. This needs to be understood by the layman. Are you satisfied by language of your regulations?" The court, while allowing FTMF to seek investors’ consent within a week, was critical of SEBI not doing enough to help investors. 
 
SEBI ought to be doing a lot more than merely following SC’s directions to observe the e-voting process. India has chosen to adopt disclosure-based regulation. So SEBI ought to have ensured that FTMF’s unit-holders are provided adequate information, to arrive at an informed decision and not be frightened into action. This is what has come in for criticism and a legal notice from the Chennai Financial Markets Accountability (CFMA), which has been an aggressive litigant, the Midas Touch Investors Association and one other litigant named Satyam Jain.
 
In a letter to chairman Ajay Tyagi, Virendra Jain, founder of Midas Touch, has questioned even the basics. He alleges that FTMF does not even have the email IDs of all three lakh unit-holders affected by the schemes and wants a verifiable postal ballot rather than e-voting. FTMF, he says, had earlier mentioned a five-year staggered schedule for paying investors, while the latest notice mentions no schedule at all.
 
The CFMA and Midas Touch, both, accuse FTMF of indulging in ‘false propaganda’ to ‘terrorise’ and ‘bully’ investors to support the winding-up by creating the bogey of a ‘distress sale’ of assets. FTMF’s letter to investors says that if the winding-up proposal is rejected, the redemption of units will have to be restarted and this would force the fund house to make a distress sale of securities at a very deep discount. This has caused panic, amplified by social media, because most investors are ignorant, dependent on distributors for guidance and will not make time to study issues. It provides a fertile ground to orchestrate public opinion and obfuscate issues through innuendo and irrelevant questions.
 
Satyam Jain has sent a legal notice to SEBI seeking an enquiry and action against officials who allowed the FTMF to increase borrowing limits from 20% to 30% for two schemes,  namely, Franklin India Low Duration Fund and Franklin India Short Term Income Plan, and from 20% to 40% in Franklin India Income Opportunities Fund and in Franklin India Credit Risk Fund. It has also sought disgorgement and cancellation of FTMF’s registration. 
 
CFMA’s advisory asks investors to vote against the winding-up until there is more information, an estimate of losses, payment schedule and fixing of accountability. These cannot remain open-ended issues; but once FTMF obtains investors’ consent, most issues could be swept under the carpet.
 
For instance, there is the issue of FTMF’s culpability. Why is the forensic audit a secret? What stops SEBI from disclosing the key findings and acting on them? Had FTMF got a clean chit, one can be sure that the fund house and the regulator would have been happy to reveal this to the courts. If the audit has exposed serious violations and mismanagement or dereliction of fiduciary responsibility, then punishment and possible disgorgement must follow. The details may make a big difference to investors’ vote. 
 
According to CFMA, the six schemes in question have illiquid securities, unlisted securities, low-rated high-risk securities, shares of unknown companies and defaulting companies. The erosion of principal due to these bad investments could be as high as Rs15,000 crore or more. The organisation quotes an email from FTMF which had previously mentioned that there could be ‘ill-liquidity discount of 50%’ on some schemes. Isn’t this just another way of saying that investors may need to take a 50% haircut on their investment? Shouldn’t FTMF provide updated numbers again? (See table posted by CFMA)
 
 
The Chennai organisation, correctly, asks, “How can any consent be given with so many unknowns risks?” Why does the regulator fail to understand this? My experience of observing unequal battles between investors and powerful corporates tells us that it is ‘now-or-never’ time for investors. If FTMF is able to push through the winding-up, a majority of investors will quietly accept their loss and do nothing beyond lamenting on social media. CFMA has threatened to take the battle to FTMC’s global parent by filing a class action suit against it. Given the strategic, dogged and effective battle it has fought, we wish them well. But US courts are hardly likely to be sympathetic to the cause of Indian unit-holders, when our own regulator remains mute and unhelpful. 
 
How SEBI deals with this issue has wider implications for FTMF as well as confidence in the mutual fund industry and its fake slogan of ‘mutual fund sahi hai’. SEBI can ensure there is no distress sale due to investors stampeding to redeem units. Instead, the regulator as well as the fund industry want to bury the issue quickly so that it is business as usual for the powerful industry and its extremely well-paid executives. Three lakh investors will just learn to deal with their losses and carry on, like lakhs of others who have lost money to 18 broker defaults, bank defaults and ponzi schemes, like Sahara’s cooperatives, in the past couple years. 
 
But what does it say about a chowkidar government that promised a strong and clean administration?
 
Note: Copy corrected to change one name.
 

  • Like this story? Get our top stories by email.

    User 

    COMMENTS

    s.h

    1 month ago

    PLEASE VIEW THIS 51 MINUTE VIDEO of MR. BOND with MR.SANJAY SAPRE to get clarity on whether to vote YES or NO :

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gIjNdr5w2J8&feature=youtu.be

    svgopal

    1 month ago

    The Investor Protection fund can be used to file a Class suit against Franklin Templeton for declaring it as Bankrupt in its Native country? Anyhow, our Regulator SEBI has failed in its Duty towards Investors protection. Please close the Debt funds across the MF industry as similar situation may follow elsewhere. Small Investor looks for better interest returns and he is duped unknowingly.

    svgopal

    1 month ago

    SEBI should takeover the matter from Franklin like it has done in the case of SAHARA. 2 stage action suggested, distribute the funds already collected & for the balance assets, payoff in the orderly manner as and when they mature so that Investors are not put to loss. Debt funds administration itself needs to be overhauled since small investors park money for 1 year with hope of better returns. Without much knowledge it is found that these AMC invest for 5 + years without any recourse to short term needs. Market borrowings should be stopped for Redemptions, particularly beyond 2 years.

    prime

    1 month ago

    What I don't understand is why is FT allowed to frame the rules of this game? Why can't the KHC or SEBI say that all investors must be given a minimum of 50% but that does not close their options to pursue litigation for recovery of the balance amount?

    After all what is the use of Mr Franklin and Mr Templeton? Isn't financial business all about the implicit trust that a name invokes? "Put money in FT, it is a very big fund in the US." When an investor trusted FT with money, they did it with this implicit guarantee of reputation and asset base. Now FT wants to get out without invoking that implicit guarantee. Not done.

    This is the time investors must create such a noise about this that FT's reputation across the globe will be threatened. That is the only language that FT will understand.

    REPLY

    saketjn

    In Reply to prime 1 month ago

    FT's reputation is seriously damaged in India, SEBI's should be damaged as well for not being quick to control Vodafone/other bad balance sheet companies' debt fall out. Real crooks here are rating agencies as well.

    However, do think little more about minimum guarantee ask you are putting up. This is not viable legally but directionally you can see.

    This is a debt securities portfolio and my guess is unit holders will get entire value back only subject to some debt issuer defaulting on which as of now FT has no control.

    - That control to some extent is only possible while building the portfolio, not once a fund is close ended.

    - Nearly 50% AUM on short term debt funds is in cash and there is a clear line of sight of maturity profile of remaining securities.

    - Also in current low interest rate scenario, many debt issuers will utilize call option to close existing debt faster (it is already visible) and FT will be able to sell debt to other funds once this risk overhang of redemption goes away.

    opgupta1934

    1 month ago

    This article doesn't help the investors much, we are all aware of the risk and the dilemma involved. Money life seems to be supporting the NO call where as Money Control's take on e-voting is a YES. As an investor I am just hoping and praying that the associations working on behalf of the investors can get some clarity from the courts with regards to Investor Capital Protection before the commencement of the e-voting process.

    REPLY

    prime

    In Reply to opgupta1934 1 month ago

    Moneycontrol is paid media and even they themselves are quite transparent about it. For you to quote Moneycontrol's financial analysis for your conclusion is laughable.

    opgupta1934

    In Reply to prime 1 month ago

    Nothing funny about it & quoting Money Control has nothing to do with my conclusion . It is a serious matter , big money is at stake.

    saketjn

    In Reply to opgupta1934 1 month ago

    Yes, moneylife coverage is one sided and not constructive. They have mixed investigating past behaviour / root cause of this issue with what is future course of action to preserve investor wealth

    vinayc

    1 month ago

    I have a lot of money stuck in Low Duration and Short Term Plan Fund. I have been investing in Short Term Plan since 10 years and fund has delivered excellent returns till Dec 19. I have been also investing in multiple debt funds including FMP for long time and it would be incorrect to say that I was not aware of risks that FTMP taking at lease in ST fund - having scrutinized it for delivering superior returns quarter after quarter. Despite that I have remained invested in the fund because I always believed that I can exist at any time when there is deterioration in fund value. To be honest, I was not paying attention to market in March/April when there was "run on" these funds. To me, the extreme & continued redemption pressure on these funds reeks off inside information (about underlying bonds turning illiquid/bad) and those who were privy to this information got out in time.

    As of now, I am resigned to the fact that there is going to be capital loss but I am also looking at getting my money back as early as possible as well as. So somebody savvy has to make calls such as returning 60% capital in a year against returning 90% capital in 3-4 years timeline. Pragmatically speaking, if I look at voting decision, "yes" makes more sense to me as of now. However, anguished I am with FTMP, SEBI and my self, there is no clear path defined if I answer "No". Voting "No" to push FTMF in corner and to make them answerable would have made sense only if SEBI can be relied on protecting investor interests. I would have gone for "NO" vote, only if I am sure that SEBI will steps in and keep funds closed till it can find amenable solution, thinking about transferring trusteeship and management to perhaps third party etc. I simply fear that either way things will be driven by FTMF, and SEBI will sit on sidelines as it is doing since start; and so voting NO will indeed give FTMF opportunity to wash their hands off by going for distress sell. Looking at courts/litigation is not going to solve problem because finally court will also put burden/onus of investor protection on SEBI and we are back to square one.

    REPLY

    saketjn

    In Reply to vinayc 1 month ago

    Completely agree

    shaidermota

    1 month ago

    Your definition of "Adequate information" seems to be focused entirely on the Forensic Audit Report.

    Other than this (which is to be submitted to the Supreme Court once complete) there is no other information that Franklin Templeton has hidden from investors. Any Investor / Distributor who has online access to the Franklin Templeton web site can download her / his complete account statement showing all transactions since inception as on date.

    Moreover, a regular fortnightly communication has been sent to all Investors and Distributors since the wind up explaining why they have done what they have done so I do not subscribe to your theory of Franklin "not disclosing adequate information" to investors.

    Yes Santosh Kamat took risks and delivered better than market returns. When the going was good nobody complained. Moreover SEBI had given time for a year to all AMCs to adjust their portfolios to reflect the new asset quality norms laid down in October 2019 but unfortunately everything came together in March / April 2020 hence according to me the decision of Franklin to wind up the six funds was most certainly taken keeping the best interests of small retail investors who unlike large corporates did not panic sell.

    Frankly you seem to be barking up the wrong tree this time around. It is in the best interests of all Investors to vote for a YES so that at least whatever money has been received so far can be distributed expeditiously.

    The Chennai Financial Markets Association is making baseless and ridiculous claims of fraud - in fact speaking of adequate information, let us find out how many of them actually have their money stuck in the six funds firstly. Even if they do, it is in their best interests to not be DOGS in the MANGER and prevent the money from coming to other investors also by voting NO. Unnecessary litigation will result in delay in distributing what is available to all investors - in fact which has already been delayed due to this litigation by 6 months already. Let the money come in first, after that file whatever cases you want to.

    A Mutual Fund company is governed by rules and regulations and cannot be compared to your fly by night operators. If they have done wrong then by all means SEBI is empowered to impose the relevant fines and penalties on them. But these people have set a bad precedent by approaching the Courts who frankly do not have the domain expertise to understand financial market nuances. The decision of the Karnataka High Court is "ambiguous" and "contradictory" as on the one hand it says the decision to wind up was within the powers of the Trustees and on the other hand it wants Franklin to conduct voting to determine the consent of investors. This is plainly illogical as if the decision was valid then why on earth is there any need for taking the consent of the investors ? The rules have been interpreted incorrectly by the Court creating more confusion and delay in distribution of available funds to investors.

    Franklin have been keen to distribute the funds from the very beginning in an orderly manner but the several foolish Court appeals from so called protectors of investor interests have in fact done more damage to investors' interests particularly during the lockdown when small retail investors were in dire need of money.

    Think and reflect....do you really want to vote a NO and cause panic redemption and distress sale of assets when there is a better alternative available ?

    Considering interest rates have fallen so much, almost all the Debtors want to make prepayments in order to avail of lower interest rates. Moreover, A and AA rated securities have been paying their coupons and maturity so the paranoia of low rated securities causing losses has turned out to be unfounded.

    If an orderly distribution of funds is done, Investors will still get a 8% return on investment.

    So please understand the entire thing first before crying Wolf !

    REPLY

    saketjn

    In Reply to shaidermota 1 month ago

    You have covered most pertinent points and given correct understanding of situation. Money life is not advising in unit holders interest and are very biased / fixated on their view of this issue

    Udayan Dasgupta

    1 month ago

    Moneylife and Sucheta Dalal are to be complimented on supporting investors against the mafia elements in the Indian MF industry. All that an individual investor can do is perhaps to register their opposition, on the following lines:

    "Kindly note I do not accept your notice of voting in view of the following defects:
    - the meeting of shareholders/investors needs to be prior to voting. Hence please reverse the dates of the same
    - the phrase "orderly winding up" in the trustee's notice needs to be defined and needs to include the provision for liability/compensation payable by the Trustees pursuant to the legal and regulatory proceedings ongoing in the courts, SEBI, etc.
    - in view of foregoing a 3rd option for voting needs to be added: "winding up after the conclusion of and subject to the outcome of legal/regulatory actions ongoing in the courts, SEBI, etc."
    Please confirm compliance, failing which you will be legally liable for infringement of investor/shareholder rights."

    REPLY

    anant.9196

    In Reply to Udayan Dasgupta 1 month ago

    Totally agree with Udayan Dadgupta's suggestion ! This is the way to go now!!

    vangalakrish

    2 months ago

    What a mess SEBI and FTMF made. If it would have restricted outflows as like RBI did with few banks (PMC, YES & LVB) until the COVID period, things would have normalized on its own in due course. Even with more than 45% of the cash with some of the funds, investors can't access their own funds. It seems like entire proceedings with KHC is of no relevance today because arrogant FTMF decides to prove their own agenda. Nothing happened to officials of FTMF or SEBI and Investors continued to suffer. I am not sure even Yes vote can get me the funds contrary to the popular opinion. The Trust is gone and I strongly feel it doesn't matter be it Yes or No. I really doubt Investors would get money in 2021 and it may take decade or so as like any other court case in India and this debate about merits of voting either Yes or NO now is of no use.

    nakul01.11

    2 months ago

    The FTMF officials should definitely be taken through a forensic audit and trial. They should be jailed once the fraud is proven. However opening up of the schemes could result into a disaster eroding all value... I am with all Investor Associations for the litigation, and cancelling of FTMF's license but i guess opening up of these schemes would lead to a vicious circle..

    anant.9196

    2 months ago

    Thanks for a timely article on a subject that is vexing to say the least. As I see it FTMF has lost its credibility by:
    - Its Managers making dubious decisions by investing investor money in riskier debts with purely profit motive
    - Be that as it may, once FTMF identified these wrong decisions it sought to abruptly close its schemes without full disclosure indicates it's Mala fide intentions
    - Even now after several investor bodies asking for it FTMF's continued actions in AVOIDING FULL DISCLOSURE and in fact threatening of dire consequences if investors do not vote 'Yes' smacks of clear blackmail and extortion tactics and further dismays me of the illegitimate ends that such organisations go to serve their selfish interests.
    These illegitimate acts of FTMF is fully being supported by SEBI by its acts of omission and commision. As someone mentioned FTMF would not have dared to deal with its investors in this manner if this happened in USA.

    All that your article is supporting the Chennai Commodities view is that Investors should definitely vote but AFTER FULL DISCLOSURE by FTMF. At the very least FTMF should commit the maximum hair cut required alongwith clear time schedule for payment release to investors. IS THIS TOO MUCH to ASK for?

    I hope Sanjay Sapre and FTMF feel accountable to at least give this clarity before asking for YES vote!

    Shame on SEBI to be a mute observer when investors are being so publicly blackmailed!

    suketu

    2 months ago

    Game plan in equities across India is one 1-fool the retail customer.franklin no different.

    srikanthonnet

    2 months ago

    SEBI is setting a wrong precedence by not intervening in this debacle. Franklin Templeton must be questioned and ensured that investors get their capital back. I am wondering if all these regulators are for investor protection or work for the fund house protection. When all these finance gurus and rating agencies talk about transparent management for a company none of the economic/money sites and rating agencies have down graded FT funds. This issue might be in debt mkt but FT management is not transparent and fair to investors . There has to be enough awareness about the fund house and we should spread the word Say_no_to_Franklin_Templeton_Funds. Definitely I will not recommend any funds from FT here after

    gopaliyer1950

    2 months ago

    Indeed a very sad state of affairs.
    -May be criminal action against Fund Manager may be a fit solution.
    -Class actiuon suit in US may be considered
    -FT would not dare to do this in US
    -Cancellation of FT licence in India a good suggestion
    -Distressed to note Modi Government a silent spectator like SEBI and AMFI

    Meenal Mamdani

    2 months ago

    Ms. Dalal, I am worried about your safety. You have exposed the wrongdoing of several corporates and the regulatory officials. These crooks work hand in hand. Please take extra precautions.
    i am so disappointed in the Modi govt. Apart from being anti-minority and pro-monopoly capitalists, I thought that at least it would bring about reforms in the economic sector. Even that is now turning out to be a lie.
    Thanks to people like you who have taken up the cause of the common man/woman, the wrongdoings are being exposed. But can we expect the judiciary to be impartial? The behavior of the Supreme Court has been worrying.

    REPLY

    keshavasinha15

    In Reply to Meenal Mamdani 2 months ago

    Very true...I have got to know so many things frm money life.. Which are so very shocking.. Wish Ms. Sucheta dalal & Mr. Debashis basu a very safe,happy & long life... Thousands of people's blessings & good wishes will be there with you

    We are listening!

    Solve the equation and enter in the Captcha field.
      Loading...
    Close

    To continue


    Please
    Sign Up or Sign In
    with

    Email
    Close

    To continue


    Please
    Sign Up or Sign In
    with

    Email

    BUY NOW

    online financial advisory
    Pathbreakers
    Pathbreakers 1 & Pathbreakers 2 contain deep insights, unknown facts and captivating events in the life of 51 top achievers, in their own words.
    online financia advisory
    The Scam
    28 Year Of The Scam: The Perennial Bestseller, reads like a Thriller!
    Moneylife Online Magazine
    Fiercely independent and pro-consumer information on personal finance
    financial magazines online
    Stockletters in 4 Flavours
    Outstanding research that beats mutual funds year after year
    financial magazines in india
    MAS: Complete Online Financial Advisory
    (Includes Moneylife Online Magazine)