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RIL faces pressure on buyback price

December 27, 2004 10:14 IST

Reliance Industries is likely to be under pressure to announce a share buyback at an attractive price at Monday's board meeting, analysts said.

Reliance shares had taken a beating after the dispute between the Ambani brothers came into the picture but expectation of the buyback being at a significant premium to the current market price has put life back into the stock.

Reliance shares ended around 3 per cent higher Friday at Rs 523.40, ahead of Monday's crucial board meeting to discuss a share buyback among other things.

The share has risen around 10 per cent on buyback hopes.  Monday's board meeting is expected to be a stormy affair as the warring Ambani brothers face each for the first time inside the boardroom after their feud became public on November 17, with elder brother Mukesh Ambani admitting to "ownership issues."

The other key issue that is likely to be discussed will be the shareholding pattern of group company Reliance Infocomm -- the bone of contention between the two brothers.

Mukesh Ambani may have taken out some sting out of Anil Ambani's attack by deciding to renounce the 500 million shares of Reliance Infocomm acquired by him through the sweat equity route.

However, market sources feel that there will many other issues relating to corporate governance surfacing at the board meet. On the issue of share buyback, market talk is that the buyback price could be between Rs 550 and Rs 600.

However, there is also scepticism whether the company will actually go in for buyback, given its past track record. Dealers point to the company's previous buyback, as well as the ongoing buyback in group concern Reliance Energy. In both the cases, no shares were bought by the company.

On Jul. 25, 2000, Reliance Industries had announced a buyback from the open market at a price not exceeding 303 rupees a share, in a move termed as "intended to maximise returns to investors and enhance overall shareholder value." However, no shares were purchased back by RIL as the share price remained higher than the buy-back price.

Reliance Energy has also not bought a single share under the share buy-back scheme which was launched on June 14 with a ceiling of Rs 525.

Analysts tracking the stock, however, point out that the circumstances are different from what they were when RIL had announced its buyback four years back.

"This is not a simple case of a company believing its share is undervalued. There is real uncertainty this time around," an analyst with a domestic brokerage said, referring to the clash between the Ambani brothers.

There has been apprehension in the mind of small investors about the dipping share price, even as concerns over future policies of the company have been voiced by ratings agencies and institutional investors.

There are also concerns that Reliance Industries may have violated corporate governance norms with respect to its investment in Reliance Infocomm, and this could even attract regulatory action.

These fears are likely to put pressure on the stock price for some more time, and the company could be under pressure to demonstrate its sincerity about the buyback programme.

At Friday's closing, the stock may have recouped most of the losses suffered since November 17, after Mukesh Ambani went public with the spat.

However, few are willing to bet on the recovery sustaining as there is no saying what turn the dispute could take next, or when there will finally be a mutually agreeable settlement between the brothers.

"Investors are sceptical. The company needs to rebuild (investor) confidence by going ahead with a buyback at an attractive price," a dealer at a local brokerage said.

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