Satyam sale process under way as bidders register

BANGALORE Thu Mar 12, 2009 7:12pm IST

File photo of policemen outside the Satyam Computer Services head office in Hyderabad January 12, 2009. At least three Indian companies may bid for a majority stake in Satyam Computer Services Ltd, the fraud-hit Indian outsourcer looking for a strategic investor. REUTERS/Krishnendu Halder/Files

File photo of policemen outside the Satyam Computer Services head office in Hyderabad January 12, 2009. At least three Indian companies may bid for a majority stake in Satyam Computer Services Ltd, the fraud-hit Indian outsourcer looking for a strategic investor.

Credit: Reuters/Krishnendu Halder/Files

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BANGALORE (Reuters) - At least three Indian companies may bid for a majority stake in Satyam Computer Services Ltd, the fraud-hit Indian outsourcer looking for a strategic investor.

Engineering and construction company Larsen & Toubro, IT services company Tech Mahindra, and diversified Spice Group all said they had registered their interest in a 51 percent stake in Satyam by a Thursday deadline.

Satyam's government-appointed board is keen to bring in an investor to restore confidence among its 50,000-strong staff and more than 600 customers, which include General Electric and Qantas Airways, after the company was hit by India's biggest corporate scandal.

Its strong client base and workforce are key attractions, but analysts said final bids would depend on clarity on Satyam's finances and legal liabilities.

Hinduja Group, which had expressed an interest in acquiring Satyam, decided not to bid, its finance director Prabal Banerjee told Reuters. He did hot give a reason.

Bidders now have to submit a detailed expression of interest and show availability of at least 15 billion rupees ($290 million) by March 20.

"We will see many companies registering their interest by the end of the deadline today, but it remains to be seen how many of them will stay the course after the due diligence," said Tejas Doshi, head of research at Bombay-based Sushil Finance.

Satyam has said it would provide shortlisted bidders access to business, financial and legal information.

"Unless the Satyam board makes available enough data based on which a buyer can put a value to the company, I don't think there will be many left in the final stages of bidding to take a shot in the dark," Doshi said.

Satyam has been struggling for survival since founder and chairman Ramalinga Raju shocked investors in January, saying Satyam's profit had been overstated for years and assets falsified.

The government intervened and appointed board members, and state-run financial companies have provided funding to the beleaguered firm. Raju, the managing director, and the chief financial officer all quit and were later arrested.

Goldman Sachs and Indian investment bank Avendus have been hired to look for potential investors.

FOREIGN BIDDERS?

Satyam, whose shares jumped nearly 40 percent in the prior two sessions, closed 3.2 percent lower at 47.20 rupees on Thursday. The company's market value has plunged to around $600 million from $7 billion last May.

Tech Mahindra said in a statement it would evaluate its next step based on information received from Satyam.

Spice Group Chairman B.K. Modi told Reuters the company was working with its investment banker Enam Securities on the deal.

Analysts say global IT services companies are unlikely to join the race for Satyam.

"For me, it doesn't make sense that in a declining demand backdrop when they have overcapacity in India today that they will acquire even more capacity with Satyam," said Karl Keirstead, a technology analyst with Kaufman Bros in New York.

Capgemini, Europe's largest computer consultancy, has no interest in buying a stake in Satyam, a spokesman said on Wednesday. Earlier, sources told Reuters that IBM was unlikely to be interested in bidding.

When asked if IBM has registered its interest to bid for Satyam, a spokesman would not comment.

Satyam faces class-action lawsuits from U.S. shareholders, and The Times of India newspaper reported on Thursday this could cause a liability of $440-$840 million, quoting Spice Group chairman Modi.

Satyam appointed KPMG and Deloitte in January to restate its accounts.

(Additional reporting by Ami Shah and Prashant Mehra in MUMBAI)

($1 = 51.7 rupees)

((For a special Satyam page on the Reuters website, please see: here))

(For Quotes and Interactive Charts of Satyam Computer Services click here)

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