Cash crunch at real estate companies

I am anxiously scanning the money market looking for dislocations (if any). The closest that seems to be found is the funding crisis of real estate companies who appear to be facing a cash crunch. I have heard of interest rates going all the way to 36%. These are really attractive returns, but then there is the possibility of default.

I looked up accounting information about one such firm, Unitech, as an example. A glance at the liabilities shows a lot of leverage: net worth of Rs.2143 crore is supporting a balance sheet of Rs.17,327 crore. Current liabilities are Rs.7,069 crore, so there must be a lot of stress rolling these over. At the same time, the market value of equity is Rs.18,000 crore. From this perspective, the leverage is not particularly high (Jayanth Varma had made a similar point recently) even though the stock price has lost 67% in the latest 12 months. In a KMV/Merton model world, you wouldn’t think this firm was particularly likely to go bust.

There is one problem in the measurement of accounting `equity’ capital for some of these firms which needs to be borne in mind. India has capital controls against debt flows. There are many mechanisms for getting around these restrictions, for equity and debt are ultimately intimately intertwined [link, link]. One mechanism is for founders (`promoters’) to sell shares to a foreign investor and have a private contract to buy these shares back at a future date. I have heard that quite a few small Indian promoters have done such deals with private equity funds and other funding sources. These transactions are really debt transactions, being disguised to look like equity transactions.

While such transactions are in flight, the accounting data for `equity’ capital is overstated. And, given the drop in stock prices in recent terms, the cost of this borrowing for the promoter will prove to be very high. Such promoters must be in a tough spot looking for personal money to do the buyback, at a stock price well above the market price.

None of these particularly attenuates the stock price, though, once there is adequate stock market liquidity, for speculators on the market know all these things. So I would still maintain that by market value measures, there is a lot of equity in Unitech. If you have insights to offer on the funding crunch of real estate companies, and why they’re paying as much as 36%, do tell.

Originally published at Ajay Shah’s blog on Oct 6, 2008 and reproduced here with the author’s permission.

2 Responses to "Cash crunch at real estate companies"

  1. Guest   October 9, 2008 at 11:39 am

    I don’t understand how these Indian Real Estate companies could sustain themselves anyways (from a Fundamental Business Model point of view) because MOST secondary market transactions in Indian Real Estate involve BLACK MONEY.In this sense, buying from Unitech/DLF would entail an “extra cost” because of having to use declared funds and check payments. Or they’d have to rely on banking loans (new growing sector).

  2. Guest   October 10, 2008 at 5:49 am

    Going through a phase of liquidity crunch, falling sales and delayed projects, real estate developers are now blaming the media. At a Ficci-conducted two-day real estate summit, developers took potshots at the media during a panel discussion accusing them of “trying to be stars at the realtors’ expense”. Developers such as Mumbai based-Kalpataru Properties, Bangalore based-Sterling Developers Pvt Ltd, Shriram Properties and Parsvnath Developers – all felt aggrieved by the ‘negative’ coverage in the media. “Journalists are blowing up the issue (of real estate slowdown) to become hot journalists and step into the limelight,” said Mr. Mufatraj Munot, chairman, Kalpataru Properties. He said negative publicity in the media was one of the reasons why properties were not being sold. But there are others who are enjoying the media attention. Mr. M Murali, managing director, Shriram Properties, said, “We (realtors) are now like film stars, journalists run behind us for quotes. We should feel like superstars.”For more view-