The Truth About India's IT Revolution


Satyam Computer Services Ltd., considered the poster child of India's information technology age, has shocked the world with a scandal of major proportions. The chairman of Satyam, a name that literally means "truth" in Sanskrit, said he cooked up key financial results, including a fictitious cash balance of more than $1 billion, raising doubts about the IT revolution hype in India that has attracted many international companies and significant foreign investments to the nation of over one billion people.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that B. Ramalinga Raju, founder and chairman of Satyam Computer Services Ltd., said in a letter of resignation that he also overstated profits for the past several years, overstated the amount of debt owed to the company and understated its liabilities. Eventually, he said, the scheme reached "simply unmanageable proportions" and he was left in a position that was "like riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten."

In the four-and-a-half page letter distributed by the Bombay stock exchange, Mr. Raju described a small discrepancy that grew beyond his control. “What started as a marginal gap between actual operating profit and the one reflected in the books of accounts continued to grow over the years. It has attained unmanageable proportions as the size of company operations grew,” he wrote. Mr. Raju ended his letter by acknowledging his misdeeds and said, "l am now prepared to subject myself to the laws of the land and face consequences thereof". While the Satyam scandal is being dubbed as "India's Enron", Raju's admission is in sharp contrast to Enron chairman Ken Lay's defiance in the face of massive evidence against him. Indeed, Raju's words are rare in the annals of corporate confessions and acceptance of personal responsibility by a top leader.

Deeply worried by the fall-out from the Satyam scandal, other Indian firms are downplaying it. "I'm very sure that this is just an isolated incident which has nothing to do with the industry that it is in, the business that it is in, or the country it is in. It has to do with individuals and the specific company," Mr. Suresh Senapathy of Wipro told the Wall Street Journal.

The analysts, however, are not as sanguine as Mr. Senapathy. "I think it's going to be a mixed bag for the other offshore IT-services firms," said George Price, an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus & Co. "Both investors and clients and potential clients are going to be more concerned about how stable their providers are."

In the wake of Satyam revelations, the company's market valuation has dropped by nearly 80% in two days. India's benchmark Sensex index has plunged 7.2%, as investors reassess level of risk in the Indian market amid serious concerns about corporate governance and accounting standards across Indian industry.

In Thursday trading, there were continuing fears that the Satyam scandal will affect other companies and hurt foreign investment. ICICI Bank tumbled 11%, Reliance Industries sank 13%, and Reliance Communications skidded 17%. However, shares of rival software firms outperformed the broad market, with Infosys Technologies gaining 1.7% and Wipro rising 0.2%.

Even before the Satyam scandal and despite the 55% drop in India's benchmark Sensex in 2008, relative valuations were high. The market's PE ratio, based on expected earnings for the next 12 months, is 60% higher than emerging markets as a group and 72% higher according to its price-to-book ratio. The roughly 2% yield on the Sensex
is minuscule compared to regional markets offering upwards of 5%.

India's market cap overtook its GDP in May 2007. By January 2008, it had reached 180% of GDP, extraordinarily high compared to 131% for the U.S. during the dot-com bubble and 150% for Japan at its market peak. In July, the market-cap ratio dropped below 100%. What it means is that even if the Indian economy continues to do well over the next two decades, GDP would have to more than double for the market cap to return to its previous heights without an equities bubble. If the economy keeps growing at 7.2%, that doubling would take at least ten years.

Hong Kong-based Political & Economic Risk Consultancy Ltd. has recently rated India as the riskiest of 14 Asian countries, not including Pakistan and Afghanistan, it analyzed for 2009. Satyam scandal is likely to add additional risk if the Indian authorities and corporate sector fail to take measures to restore investor confidence in India's publicly traded companies.

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Comments

expected said…
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Riaz Haq said…
India is the greatest example of crony capitalism which has created 50 billionaires (vs one in Pakistan) in a sea of poverty with 76% of Indians (vs 60% of Pakistanis) living on less than $2 a day.

Here are excerpts from a recent piece Mohan Murti, former director of CII in Europe, wrote for the Hindu newspaper:

In a popular prime-time television discussion in Germany, the panelist, a member of the German Parliament quoting a blog said: “If all the scams of the last five years are added up, they are likely to rival and exceed the British colonial loot of India of about a trillion dollars.”

One German business daily which wrote an editorial on India said: “India is becoming a Banana Republic instead of being an economic superpower. To get the cut motion designated out, assurances are made to political allies. Special treatment is promised at the expense of the people. So, Ms Mayawati who is Chief Minister of the most densely inhabited state, is calmed when an intelligence agency probe is scrapped. The multi-million dollars fodder scam by another former chief minister wielding enormous power is put in cold storage. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh chairs over this kind of unparalleled loot.”

An article in a French newspaper titled “Playing the Game, Indian Style” wrote: “Investigations into the shadowy financial deals of the Indian cricket league have revealed a web of transactions across tax havens like Switzerland, the Virgin Islands, Mauritius and Cyprus.” In the same article, the name of one Hassan Ali of Pune is mentioned as operating with his wife a one-billion-dollar illegal Swiss account with “sanction of the Indian regime”.

A third story narrated in the damaging article is that of the former chief minister of Jharkhand, Madhu Koda, who was reported to have funds in various tax havens that were partly used to buy mines in Liberia. “Unfortunately, the Indian public do not know the status of that inquiry,” the article concluded.

“In the nastiest business scam in Indian records (Satyam) the government adroitly covered up the political aspects of the swindle — predominantly involving real estate,” wrote an Austrian newspaper. “If the Indian Prime Minister knows nothing about these scandals, he is ignorant of ground realities and does not deserve to be Prime Minister. If he does, is he a collaborator in crime?”

The Telegraph of the UK reported the 2G scam saying: “Naturally, India's elephantine legal system will ensure culpability, is delayed.”

This seems true. In the European mind, caricature of a typical Indian encompasses qualities of falsification, telling lies, being fraudulent, dishonest, corrupt, arrogant, boastful, speaking loudly and bothering others in public places or, while traveling, swindling when the slightest of opportunity arises and spreading rumors about others. The list is truly incessant.
Riaz Haq said…
India's IT "miracle" is essentially driven by low level call center business, first-line tech support, simple repetitive code writing and run pre-defined testing. The best description of the typical Indian tech worker is "Cyber Coolie". It was coined by an astute Indian columnist Praful Bidwai back in 2003.

Harish Trivedi of Delhi University has characterized India's call centers as "brutally exploitative" and its employees as "cyber coolies of our global age, working not on sugar plantations but on flickering screens, and lashed into submission through vigilant and punitive monitoring, each slip in accent or lapse in pretence meaning a cut in wages."

An Indian blogger Siddarth Singh says that "one cannot dispute the fact that our IT industry is at best a glorified labor provider, and our feted “IT Giants” have failed to provide even a single proprietary product which could create waves in the global IT industry (perhaps except Finacle, a banking and finance solution by Infosys, and which is used by a number of MNC banks around the globe).

Siddarth asks the question, "So, what does Indian industry actually excel at?" Then he offers the following answer: "Well, we are the leaders in the so called IT Enabled Services, or ITES. These are basically services such as BPOs, call centers, KPOs etc, which extensively use IT to provide backend and customer services to primarily overseas customers. That our ITES industry is hugely dependent on foreign clients is also not a secret anymore, with hardly any Indian company enlisting the services of such companies".

A recent letter from a Bangalore based Indian IT worker addressed to the editors "The Hindu" newspaper read as follows:

This is how people in the West have started referring to people in developing nations. In the old days, of course, we Indians were referred to as "coolies" because we provided cheap labour. Nowadays, we are being called "cyber coolies".

Why? Because most software companies find it cheaper to get their job done in countries like India and other developing nations. There are many people in the U. S. and Britain who raise a hue and cry when jobs get exported to countries like India — especially jobs related to call centres and the software industry.

The fact that they refer to us as coolies shows that they haven't lost their imperialist outlook....

People and the media are often fooled by "R&D" in the name of some of the western companies locations in Bangalore.

In reality, Bangalore is the code coolie capital of the world...it's not about tech, it's about cheap labor performing low-level tasks at rock-bottom wages. It's just cost arbitrage in the service sector.

I have no doubt there are some smart techies in India doing leading edge work, but these are exceptions. The overwhelming majority of the so-called IT work in India is call centers or low-level routine software tech support, maintenance, testing, etc. which is widely described as code coolie work. It's mostly about cost arbitrage, not advanced tech.
Riaz Haq said…
India's IT "miracle" is essentially driven by low level call center business, first-line tech support, simple repetitive code writing and run pre-defined testing. The best description of the typical Indian tech worker is "Cyber Coolie". It was coined by an astute Indian columnist Praful Bidwai back in 2003.

Harish Trivedi of Delhi University has characterized India's call centers as "brutally exploitative" and its employees as "cyber coolies of our global age, working not on sugar plantations but on flickering screens, and lashed into submission through vigilant and punitive monitoring, each slip in accent or lapse in pretence meaning a cut in wages."

An Indian blogger Siddarth Singh says that "one cannot dispute the fact that our IT industry is at best a glorified labor provider, and our feted “IT Giants” have failed to provide even a single proprietary product which could create waves in the global IT industry (perhaps except Finacle, a banking and finance solution by Infosys, and which is used by a number of MNC banks around the globe).

Siddarth asks the question, "So, what does Indian industry actually excel at?" Then he offers the following answer: "Well, we are the leaders in the so called IT Enabled Services, or ITES. These are basically services such as BPOs, call centers, KPOs etc, which extensively use IT to provide backend and customer services to primarily overseas customers. That our ITES industry is hugely dependent on foreign clients is also not a secret anymore, with hardly any Indian company enlisting the services of such companies".

A recent letter from a Bangalore based Indian IT worker addressed to the editors "The Hindu" newspaper read as follows:

This is how people in the West have started referring to people in developing nations. In the old days, of course, we Indians were referred to as "coolies" because we provided cheap labour. Nowadays, we are being called "cyber coolies".

Why? Because most software companies find it cheaper to get their job done in countries like India and other developing nations. There are many people in the U. S. and Britain who raise a hue and cry when jobs get exported to countries like India — especially jobs related to call centres and the software industry.

The fact that they refer to us as coolies shows that they haven't lost their imperialist outlook....

People and the media are often fooled by "R&D" in the name of some of the western companies locations in Bangalore.

In reality, Bangalore is the code coolie capital of the world...it's not about tech, it's about cheap labor performing low-level tasks at rock-bottom wages. It's just cost arbitrage in the service sector.

I have no doubt there are some smart techies in India doing leading edge work, but these are exceptions. The overwhelming majority of the so-called IT work in India is call centers or low-level routine software tech support, maintenance, testing, etc. which is widely described as code coolie work. It's mostly about cost arbitrage, not advanced tech.
Anand Jodhani said…
TCS posted revennues of USD 8 billion with profits of USD 2 billion for FY 2010-11. It employs about 200,000 people.
Cyber coolies or whatever, if IT industry generates good revenues, generates employment, we are more than happy to be called a cyber coolie. Will be only a matter of time when our IT companies start making proprietary products.
Even if they don't, we are happy to see the money flowing in. And as if Pakistan is doing any better.

Do I see a streak of jealousy. How biased are you Mr Haq. But wishful thinking aint going to take India down.But your belligerent attitude, negative approach sure will harm your country. Just like its happening now.

I was hoping people with credentials like yourself would have a mellowed down approach but I see its a national problem. The country survives and thrives hating others. Rather than getting their house in order.
Riaz Haq said…
Indian IT services company Infosys has come under scrutiny for bringing in low wage Indians on business visas to work on projects to get around limits on numbers of H1-B visa allowed each year, according to NY Times:

Last week, Representative Zoe Lofgren of California, the senior Democrat on the immigration subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, introduced a bill that would increase the wages employers would have to pay H-1B workers, in an effort to ensure they do not undercut Americans. The measure is specifically aimed at Indian outsourcing companies. Last year, Congress added an extra $2,000 to the fee for H-1B visas, in another move aimed at the Indian companies.

Yet the criminal investigation is perhaps the most worrisome development for Infosys, which enjoys a reputation as one of India’s best-run and most respected companies. The events began with Mr. Palmer, 43, a project manager from Alabama who was hired by the company in 2008. In a sworn affidavit he submitted to the federal court, Mr. Palmer said his differences with Infosys management began after he was summoned to a meeting in Bangalore in March 2010. Top executives, he said, discussed ways to “creatively” get around H-1B visa limitations “to fulfill the high demand for its customers at lower cost.”

In general, B-1 visas are granted to business visitors coming to the United States for short stays to attend meetings, conferences or training sessions, or to install specialized equipment. Visitors may not be employed for contract work like H-1B workers, nor can they be paid salaries in this country. There is no annual limit on business visitor visas, whereas H-1B visas are restricted to 85,000 a year.

Mr. Palmer said his supervisors asked him to write letters inviting workers to come from India for sales and training meetings, letters he believed were false. “I refused to write the letters,” he said.

After word got out of his refusal, Mr. Palmer said, he was chastised by his managers and began to receive threats by e-mail and telephone. In October, Infosys has confirmed, Mr. Palmer filed a whistle-blower report about B-1 visa holders from India assigned to projects he or others managed. His report said the B-1 visa holders were doing the same tasks as workers on H-1B visas, including writing and testing software code. Mr. Palmer said he personally knew of at least 60 Indian workers doing contract work on B-1 visas.


http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/22/us/22infosys.html?scp=1&sq=infosys&st=cse

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