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Rediff.com  » Business » PSUs steal the show on bourses in 2007

PSUs steal the show on bourses in 2007

December 26, 2007 18:43 IST
It is sheer destiny that the public sector emerged as the single largest gainer of the booming stock market during 2007 but the government as the owner also empowered these temples of yesteryears to go global and regain the pristine glory even in a liberalised economy.

Save for a few hiccups, like resignation of Prahlad K Basu as chairman of Board for Reconstruction of Public Sector Enterprises or search for independent directors, the PSUs seem to have overcome their worst with the UPA regime unleashing a programme of part-sale of entities for listing on bourses.

Even with less than four dozen in number as listed entities, the PSUs account for over 20 per cent share of the overall market capitalisation of the more than 4,000 entities at the bourses.

In actual terms, led by ONGC and NTPC, total market capitalisation of the listed PSUs was over Rs 14,55,000 crore (Rs 14.55 trillion), possibly prompting government to go for more listings.

ONGC was the largest contributor with a market cap of Rs 2,45,082 crore (Rs 2.45 trillion) as on November 23. The oil major represented 16.84 per cent of the total PSU market cap. NTPC's share in the PSU market cap is 13.41 per cent at Rs 195,087 crore (Rs 1.95 trillion).

It may be difficult to believe, but an unheard of company in the stock markets - MMTC Ltd - emerged as the most valuable company at the BSE, toppling ONGC, and being quoted at Rs 40,500 along with NMDC Ltd with a share price of about Rs 16,000.

The two companies, in which government holds more than 98 per cent stake, entered the coveted Rs 2 trillion market cap club, becoming most coveted PSUs after ONGC.

Shares of NMDC surged three per cent in November to close at Rs 15,834, taking its market cap to Rs 2,09,261 crore (Rs 2.09 trillion), while MMTC gained five per cent to end at Rs 40,460 with a valuation of Rs 2,02,301 crore (Rs 2.02 trillion).

But this came along with a turf battle among the top listed PSUs -- NTPC and BHEL, backed by their ministries.

NTPC wanted to recreate another BHEL, either on its own or with a partner, to ensure that it gets all the machines and equipment for its upcoming power projects. But the market leader in equipment opposed it tooth and nail, saying it had all the capability to meet the national demand and there should be no duplication at the cost of national resources.

The outcome of this turf war would be known in future, but the redeeming feature of the year for the public sector is that the government kept on adding muscle to the state-owned entities. Not only did it create more Navratna and Mini-ratnaentities but also increased their decision making powers.

Bharat Electronics Ltd, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd and Power Finance Corporation were conferred the Navratna status, giving them more financial and administrative powers. With the conferment of the coveted status on these three companies, the Navratna club now has 12 public sector enterprises.

Emphasising the UPA government's commitment to strengthen public sector enterprises, Finance Minister P Chidambaram said more autonomy should be given to these units as he asked unlisted PSUs to list on bourses to unlock their true value.

The status enabled the three PSUs to forge joint ventures in India and abroad, which can be up to 15 per cent of their net worth or Rs 1,000 crore (Rs 10 billion) whichever is lower, without taking prior permission of the administrative ministry.  Moreover, the board also has the power to decide on merger and acquisitions.

Heavy Industries Minister Santosh Mohan Deb said four PSUs - National Aluminium Company, NMDC, Power Grid Corp and Rural Electrification Corp - would be given Navratna status when they appoint independent directors.

The financial autonomy package announced on the basis of the recommendations of the empowered committee, headed by Nitish Sengupta, left very little to desire for the PSUs to acquire competitive age within the country but also hone up skills for global exposure and acquisition.

SAIL and Coal India Ltd are globe trotting for mining prospects while oil giants - ONGC and IOC, BPCL and HPCL made new alliances with global players like steel tycoon Lakshmi Mittal or acquire oil equity in Russia or far off Africa.

But the soft underbelly of state-owned players remained the retention of talent as PSUs proved vulnerable to poaching by domestic private giants or global MNCs. It is a pity that CMDs and directors are getting pittance as salaries compared to the packages private firms give to middle level executives.

The government has set up a new wage mechanism for PSUs that should come out with its recommendation by next year. But a straight jacket approach in fixation of pay and perks, as is done in the wage boards, could prove detrimental.

The apex body of PSUs - Standing Conference on Public Enterprises - has represented to the wage fixation machinery that there is a case for giving freedom to profit making PSUs to enable them match industry standards as the only way for arresting the attrition, particularly at the top level.

On the other side, BRPSE chairman Basu put in his papers following differences with the government over reforming the state-run companies. Basu said the board had managed to turn around 51 units over the past three years.

However, the Department of Public Enterprises' "unwillingness to support BRPSE in delivering its mandate has made it almost impossible for me to carry out my job," he said while resigning.

An eventful year for an otherwise considered-as-mundane public sector – pipping corporate giants at stock markets and nurturing global aspirations.
Yoshita Singh & Rakesh Pathak
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