Satyam: Slumdog Millionaire

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SAY it ain't so, Satyam.

Shares of Indian IT outsourcing giant Satyam Computer Services (NYSE: SAY  ) got pummeled this morning, after Chairman B. Ramalinga Raju admitted that the company's books are cooked.

It's not pretty. Satyam's balance sheet cash is inflated by the rupees equivalent of more than $1 billion, as the result of several years of inflated profits.

"It was like riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten," Raju confesses in a note to the company's board, presumably unaware of the chairman's number-crunching trickery. Fearing that the gaps would become public under a buyout -- and the stock had risen yesterday on newspaper reports that it was an acquisition target -- Raju came clean.

Investors knew that something wasn't quite right with Raju. The stock took a spill last month when Raju announced the proposed $1.6 billion purchase of distressed assets. The problem? The targeted Maytas Properties buy consisted of businesses owned by the chairman's sons, and completely unrelated to Satyam's outsourcing stronghold.

"How would shareholders have known whether Satyam was simply bailing out family members by sorely overpaying for these assets?" I asked at the time.

It turns out that it was actually the sons trying to bail out Raju.

"The aborted Maytas acquisition deal was the last attempt to fill the fictitious assets with real ones," he confesses.

The crushing Satyam news is having a favorable impact on its rivals. Cognizant Technology (Nasdaq: CTSH  ) and Infosys (Nasdaq: INFY  ) are moving higher today, while Wipro (NYSE: WIT  ) is only trading marginally lower. Rather than focus on the lack of market credibility in India-based companies, savvy investors realize that incensed Satyam customers are likely to head elsewhere for their IT outsourcing needs.

Other Indian-based growth stocks, like online access specialist Sify (Nasdaq: SIFY  ) and new media player (Nasdaq: REDF  ) , are trading all over the map.  

In the critically acclaimed Slumdog Millionaire, the Indian protagonist surprises a quiz show host by knowing all of the right answers. As it turns out, the correct responses typically come from heart-wrenching episodes in his life. Satyam has it the other way around, with investors getting poorer as Raju provides all of the wrong answers.

He is naturally stepping down, ready to face his fate. Satyam will likely settle for a bargain-priced buyout from someone -- anyone -- willing to take a chance on the mystery box of a company that Satyam has become.

"It is written," is how Slumdog Millionaire ends, before breaking into an uplifting Bollywood dance sequence at a train station. Satyam's ending now appears to be more of a train wreck instead.

The painful Satyam saga:

You can find many great international stock picks in the Global Gains newsletter service. Satyam Computer Services is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz relishes unearthing promising growth stocks overseas. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

Read/Post Comments (34) | Recommend This Article (54)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On January 07, 2009, at 2:39 PM, EggplantWizard wrote:

    I don't think things are likely to remain so rosy with investor reaction to the Satyam affair.

    See my recent blog post for further explanation

  • Report this Comment On January 07, 2009, at 4:08 PM, brwn8484 wrote:

    I about rolled off my chair after reading that Raju was Enrnst & Youngs entrpreneur of the year. Gives more credence to my theory that most of this economic crisis is being used to take our freedoms; but how do you protect your sheep when the shepherd has invited the wolves for dinner?

    Welcome to the new economic order. Inflate your numbers, hire a good accounting firm, and pray for socialism. At least it worked for all the banks, auto industry and anyone else with enough money to buy some sympathy from our vaunted leaders.

    Wake up America.... The greatest Ponzi scheme ever conceived is about to get bigger. Barak and his socialist disciples are about to unleash billions in spending that has no basis in any real growth other than tax payers bills. And you thought that crime was going down in Washington. Welcome to REAL New World Order. Whoeee .... I can only hope that there is someplace in the world that will accept all the conservatives after we are forced to give all our money to the crooks and politicians and overpaid executives.

  • Report this Comment On January 07, 2009, at 4:36 PM, craftmacaroni wrote:

    Question: at a say value of 9.32 the price to sales is1.32. Raju admits to having pumped up revenue 30%. Given this, isn't it possible that it's worth more than it's trading at now which shows 85 cents. I'm not defending the company. However, from everything I've read Raju is not in Madoff or Skilling's league as people are suggesting. I'm not defending Raju and I think price/waterhouse and the SEC are culpable and reprehensible as is Raju's behavior.. However, say was a real company and it looks like Raju felt increasing pressure to cover the decreasing margins. He sunk a lot of his and his family's money into it according to articles out today, in hopes that the numbers would improve. In other words, he wasn't a real sociopath who was trying to bilk people but a weak guy who given a difficult economy, began doing things he shouldn't have to make it work. His confession and resignation seemed an attempt to save the company rather than sell and make off with the money. Just a thought.

  • Report this Comment On January 07, 2009, at 4:53 PM, TMFBreakerRick wrote:

    Craft Mac, I hear you, but keep in mind that it's not just about pumping up revenue by 30%. During that same Q2, operating profits were pumped up more than tenfold! That $1 billion cash mattress is bogus.

    What is SAY worth? After class action lawsuits eat away at what's left? After customers defect from the tarnished brand? Satyam will still be worth something to a smaller company looking to scale quickly in a rushed buyout, but it's naive to think that Satyam will survive under its own name later this year.

  • Report this Comment On January 07, 2009, at 5:40 PM, kartha1 wrote:

    Did TMF Stock advisor recommend Satyam?

  • Report this Comment On January 07, 2009, at 5:45 PM, vandalen1 wrote:

    Have SEC or some agency appoint auditors for a firm.

    CFO's no longer report to CEO's. Let them report to a shareholder board.

    No bonus or Stock options for CFO's.

    No Stock Options for any executives.

  • Report this Comment On January 07, 2009, at 5:53 PM, watersm wrote:

    What should investors do? I bought when Stock Adviser recommended. By the time Stock Adviser said "sell" today, trading was already halted (reminds me of the mother saying "be careful" to a child who just hit his head on something)!

    The question now is, "Will the stock go up or down from HERE?" Do we:

    1. sell as soon as trading resumes

    2. wait for the stock buy-back meeting this weekend

    3. wait for a buy-out

    4. become part of a dead cat bounce

  • Report this Comment On January 07, 2009, at 6:08 PM, habuchas100 wrote:

    If TMF Stock advisor recommended Satyam I would like to have them print their original recommendation and explain where they went wrong. I think it would be a valuable lesson for a TMFers. Admitting the bad picks is as much, or more, of the learning experience than bragging about the great picks.

  • Report this Comment On January 07, 2009, at 6:09 PM, MichaelSherman wrote:

    Was Not Saytam a highly rated fools company? How did fools rate them so highly? what information was the rating based on? How does anyone know if wall street companies are valid with their financial data? are auditors really auding the books? are board members really doing a fiduciary responsibility or are they the mgmts golf buddies? when these guys get caught and have hurt 1000's of livlihoods, why are they allowed to free on bail, but if you got caught with an ounce of pot - hurt nobody but most likely yourself, you could be in jail immediately. white collar crime is the worst crime...our entire country is in a shambles over white collar crime....our childrens futures are grim because of white collar crime, it is not violent but hit is the silent killer...look at madoffs investor that took his many families are destitute overnite because of all this white collar crime, how many potential suicides are out there because people lost everything and cannot cope? how much addl monies will be wasted on healthcare because of people stressed, lost healthcare insurance and more medicaid/free care..the world has lost its common sense..bad examples set for how to get ahead in business and in life.

  • Report this Comment On January 07, 2009, at 6:11 PM, MichaelSherman wrote:

    1000 outperform 29 underform according to fools - 4 star rating. how can that be on a another ponzi scheme. who can you trust...nobody....why would you trust any financial data these days.

  • Report this Comment On January 07, 2009, at 6:12 PM, blearynet wrote:

    Yes, I would love to hear how Stock Advisor was bamboozled, because this would be very instructive for everyone. We need to learn from mistakes.

  • Report this Comment On January 07, 2009, at 6:24 PM, Fuzzer1 wrote:

    I would like to know what the fallout for PWC will be? It seems clear they actively took part in misleading just about everybody. Their reputation should take a big hit and investors should tread carefully if PWC is auditing somebody's books.

  • Report this Comment On January 07, 2009, at 6:40 PM, javnnf wrote:

    Most of the MF recommendations have lost money anywhere from 50% to 90%. One might as well consider flipping a coin.

  • Report this Comment On January 07, 2009, at 6:44 PM, javnnf wrote:

    It is high time MF stopped claiming CAPS as the ultimate reference point.

    If only the participants get to build a rating then how is this any different from the market averages?

  • Report this Comment On January 07, 2009, at 7:03 PM, javnnf wrote:


    Most of the financial crisis is due to the de-regulation promoted by the republicans called conservatives.

    It all began with Regan, and two 8-terms of republican presidency has caused this chaos. Who knows how much water is still there. The Madoff ponzi scheme could have never happened only if SEC were doing their job-- but they were asking the thief "did you steal?".

  • Report this Comment On January 07, 2009, at 7:52 PM, brwn8484 wrote:


    This economic crisis goes much deeper than any party or president. I can only hope that all the corruption on both sides (of political spectrum) will be exposed and the true nature of our politicians, corporate leaders and citizens will be exposed where necessary.

    Unfortunately, your attack of Republicans, dismisses much of the corporate, political and social corruption which is so rampant in our society and world at large.

    I am saddened by the truth that our liberal media has incorrectly portrayed our conservative Republican American citizen(s) as the root of this problem.

    Your response indicates to me that you have been duped into believing a simple but profound lie. That only Democrats can be trusted to lead and only a socialistic govt of ever expanding influence is the answer to all our problems.

  • Report this Comment On January 07, 2009, at 8:41 PM, matcha695 wrote:

    Another MF pick goes down the toilet!

  • Report this Comment On January 07, 2009, at 9:25 PM, cdenny6 wrote:

    Rick and all you Fools...

    I have just lost many thousands of dollars of my retirement funds on SAY - so a flip article is not at all appropriate - especially when it is surrounded by Fool service offerings (i.e., MF PRO!).

    I have been a Million Dollar portfolio subscriber (big losses) and continue to be a Stock Advisor subscriber - bigger losses growing.

    Sometimes your (MF) flip editorial style should be moderated by our reality. It's like joking about Gaza or Iraq or Afghanistan - our own economy.

    Don't you feel our pain?

  • Report this Comment On January 07, 2009, at 9:40 PM, cdenny6 wrote:


    I'm back again - if not on the SAY topic - but on the MF advisory services.

    Do you remember when MF went off to Ireland to visit AIB? It was fun and so meaningful. A real vacation trip to Europe - just like when we were college kids.

    Well, I am down 85% on (both) that Stock Advisor and Million Dollar portfolio tout - so far.

    Am I critical of MF? Yes, very!

  • Report this Comment On January 07, 2009, at 9:56 PM, breaktrack wrote:

    come on cdenny6..the whole world is down!

  • Report this Comment On January 07, 2009, at 11:51 PM, Seano67 wrote:

    "come on cdenny6..the whole world is down!"

    True, but there's a big difference between all these stocks being down in a poor economy and a stock dropping right off the edge of the table due to a massive case of corporate fraud. Big difference there.

    And I would say that the Motley Fool service that gave their recommendation to this stock owes some kind of explanation to their subscribers who invested in the stock. That would be the decent thing to do, no? I mean they gave it their personal seal of approval and told investors to go for it. I don't know how transparent or opaque Raju's fraud might have been, but either way, how closely did the Fool actually study this company before recommending their stock?

    I feel badly for the investors, that really sucks to lose your money like that, to a thief and liar. And for me, this is further confirmation of exactly why I don't trust Indian (or Chinese for that matter) stocks, because it seems like there's an awful lot of fuzzy numbers involved in those countries stocks, almost like that's an accepted part of doing business over there. They just seem really sketchy to me. When investing internationally, I stick to Europe and Latin America. Those two areas have done quite well by me.

    Anyway, back on topic- I feel for all the people who invested in this thing.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2009, at 12:12 AM, Seano67 wrote:

    Oh yeah, and just to make it clear, I'm not blaming the Motley Fool for recommending this stock. The fact is, I don't have any idea what all went into that recommendation- and beyond that, Raju's fraud could have been so well-concealed or so buried in white noise as to be virtually undetectable.

    But whatever the case is, it would be nice for them to explain to their subscribers exactly why they recommended this stock and the process that went behind the recommendation itself. I'm just a fan of accountability like that, and you just don't see that often enough in the world.

    I'm not a subscriber to any of the MF newsletters, but I absolutely love their site. This is a great site, and I find great value in all the free stuff here, as well as free access to the thoughts of some really, really smart people. So I'm very appreciative of that.

    That's all...

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2009, at 12:51 AM, matcha695 wrote:

    If you have great investing skills then do so quietly like warren Buffet, but if you don't start a service like MF. You can make a lot of money off of others trying to make money if you can convince them that you know what you are doing. This is easier in "good times" than now.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2009, at 1:13 AM, matcha695 wrote:

    "Investors knew that something wasn't quite right with Raju. The stock took a spill last month when Raju announced the proposed $1.6 billion purchase of distressed assets. The problem? The targeted Maytas Properties buy consisted of businesses owned by the chairman's sons, and completely unrelated to Satyam's outsourcing stronghold.

    'How would shareholders have known whether Satyam was simply bailing out family members by sorely overpaying for these assets?' I asked at the time."

    So why did MF not recommend selling back then??

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2009, at 2:02 AM, Babble100 wrote:

    Traditions of transparency and accountability are lower in India than in the US. No doubt true for other developing countries as well. I'm not sure Fool investors realize this hidden risk before they put their money down.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2009, at 7:58 AM, brwn8484 wrote:

    Gentlemen.... I feel for you all. I have made many stock selections which have been disastrous. No single investment service, advisor, politician or any other professional can guarantee your investment success.

    No one can foresee fraud and I mean noone. There is no way to know every time a person cooks the books. Sometimes there are signals, but no one can foresee all the criminal activity. Rather than blaming MF for their advice, I would spend your time and money making sure that your investments are diversified. After all, if you minimize your exposure to 5% or less on any investment, even if you lose all your principal.... you will still lose a relatively minor principal amount. I would also recommend that you only invest in stocks with money that is not your "safe" money. In other words.... this stock business is extremely RISKY. We seem to forget that stock investing can lead to financial ruin.

    P.S. - I also dont advocate a Buy and Hold strategy. Prudence indicates that risk is minimized by minimizing your exposure over time.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2009, at 9:55 AM, Fuzzer1 wrote:


    I agree as an average investor that it's difficult, if not impossible, to foresee fraud. We tend to "hope" everybody's honest and a majority of the time, that works. Having said that, this is exactly why third party audits occur and not only did PWC not identify and take the appropriate actions to correct the false reporting, they probably helped conceal them!

    Great comments on diversification.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2009, at 12:56 PM, SteveTheInvestor wrote:

    As an average investor, you can't generally detect a fraudulent company like Satyam. You can however decide if what you CAN see is completely forthright and whether it represents management that is ethical and concerned about shareholders. I never bought Satyam because it I saw the price heading into the toilet (which it did).

    However, when management tried to pull the stunt of merging with the company of another family member (at an exorbitant price), that was the alarm bell in my mind. I decided then and there I would not likely ever own Satyam.... Stock Advisor rec or not.

    The stock tanked on the news of the proposed merger but then bounced back right after the merger was called off. That, in my mind, was the time to sell without hesitation. I'm quite surprised that MF Stock Advisor was not screaming "SELL". Quite sad.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2009, at 2:09 PM, kartha1 wrote:

    I was subscribed to TMF products such as stock advisor. I bought some of the recommended stocks for a meager amount that I could afford to invest - some for a gain and others for a loss. I quickly realized that I was not able to build a diversified portfolio considering the trading costs. Hence I was pretty much a silent spectator until the subscription ran out.

    Whatever the rational goes behind stock recommendations, I have come to look at them with suspect eyes. Satyam was such a highly-rated company as I recall and now when the accounting fraud is exposed, one can not help question what judgment is used in stock screening. Fools are no exception to faulty judgment. It should also be said that some amount of data mining goes behind in selection and as in any data - garbage in, garbage out.

    The irreparable damage that 2008 has wrought has taught me one thing. All these financial products are built on the expected greed of us and them. These financial products and services have their merits and demerits and to be questioned for one's own benefits. I don't believe the advertised claims any more.

    More importantly, I have come to drastically lower my expectations of my future and simplify my life further.

    I've been investing in mutual funds with low expense ratio and I've come to the conclusion that individual stock investing is not for me and to this end, I am out of TMF financial products for good.

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2009, at 5:30 PM, watersm wrote:

    Issue 1 - What to do with SATYAM if/when trading resumes? It will be near zero... sell or wait for a bounce?

    Issue 2 - Stock Advisor 'buy' recommendation explanation. They pretty much cover most of that in the issue when the buy is recommended. There's little MF could do to "ensure" the financials were not lies. SAY had a bright future at the time.

    Issue 3 - Stock Advisor not issuing a sell sooner: SteveTheInvestor is right: SA should have been screaming SELL either when the merger was proposed or when the market rebounded when it fell through. SA does a good job of expalining why they say buy, but owes us an explanation for why they so often hang onto losing stocks.

    Issue 4: CAPS. Great input and discussions, but look at Outperform/Underperform rankings. Almost every stock is highly Outperform. I'd like to see a study showing those ratios and how they pan out with reality over time. As an investor, how can I better interpret and use that information?

    Issue 5: MF products: I subscribe to MF as well as others. I drank the koolaid that says I can beat the mutual fund returns (although half of my investments are mutuals). Bottom line is that we subscribers will subscribe only if it helps us do better than if we don't subscribe. Unless MF consistently beats the market, I go away! I'm curious how MFPro is doing. I do find it frustrating they have so many different newsletters and seem to be always telling me to buy a different one than the one I have if I want good returns... I don't like the pitch that if you buy this newsletter, you'll get our best advice, and as soon as I do, they tell me they're holding back the REAL advice for another newsletter service (Louis Navellier does the same thing).

  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2009, at 8:36 PM, Seano67 wrote:

    "Issue 1 - What to do with SATYAM if/when trading resumes? It will be near zero... sell or wait for a bounce?"

    That's sort of the million dollar question there, my friend. If I were an investor in Satyam, I'd be wondering that very thing myself. In my opinion, if trading ever resumes, the stock price will be so low as to make selling it almost pointless, unless you have got MASSIVE holdings in the company. So that could be one of those times where it wouldn't really hurt to hold onto it for a bit and hope for some small kind of rebound, if only to lessen the losses just a little bit.

    If they ever come back, I am sure they will not come back as 'Satyam', as that corporate entity is forever dead, entirely destroyed by its owner. How sad and crazy is that, to kill the company that you worked your whole life for, that you built and that you love? God that must hurt. But what's to become of the business itself post-Satyam? Does it fold, is it bought out, and what of all their material assets?

    It'll be very interesting to see what happens with this one.

  • Report this Comment On January 09, 2009, at 11:54 PM, foolishlew wrote:

    I've been reading all these free newsletters for years wishing I could decide which one or two subscriptions I should buy so I would get the really good advice. Consequently I have been primarily in cash for 4 years which I now see as a blessing.

    Some weeks ago I analyzed the hype for the upcoming MFPro where the Fools are going to put up one million of their own dollars to show faith in their system. Then I multiplied the target membership times the membership fee and discovered the Fools' million was a very small fraction of the proceeds from fees. That was when I decided I'd probably never pay for their advice.

    In reading all the other comments following many of the Fools' articles, I find most are by unhappy investors. Most of the Fools' sales pitches cite the same 3 or 4 successful recommendations they have had over the years. Even I have been lucky enough to have 3 or 4 good investments without anyones' advice.

  • Report this Comment On January 10, 2009, at 4:48 PM, brwn8484 wrote:

    Just one last piece of Advice...

    I use probability and seasonality to minimize risk.

    If you use a similar tool it would have indicated a buy at Sept end snd Sell at December end!!

    BUY at end of month 9 Growth 489.3%

    Start Date: 1/12/1993

    SELL at end of month 12

    Buy in Sep, Sell in Dec

    Stock Symbol: say

    say Growth = 82.3% May/01 - Jan/09

    This would have pretected your profits and principal. I have been using this strategy to minimize risk!

  • Report this Comment On January 18, 2009, at 3:43 AM, venkytalks wrote:

    I reproduce an article I read in India's Economic times to show just how badly the analyst community can stumble.

    The article reads:

    "Satyam scam: It was there, we refused to look

    12 Jan 2009, 0830 hrs IST, Krishna Kant, ET Bureau

    The stock market and Satyam Computer’s investors were spooked by the revelations of its promoter and former chairman B. Ramalinga Raju. It turned out that the reported cash pile on which the company was sitting was fictitious. Not only that, even profit and loss accounts were doctored to the extent that actual operating profit (claimed Raju) was around 10% of the reported amount. In case of cash and cash equivalent

    the discrepancy was over 95%.

    The disclosure came as a nuclear bomb and nearly wipedoff Satyam’s market value in two trading sessions. What a sudden reversal for a company, which till few days ago was India’s fourth-largest IT service company. The episode however raises a pertinent question. What was more shocking: the amount of discrepancy in books or the disclosure itself?

    If latter is the case, as the market reaction suggests, then it just shows market and shareholders’ helplessness against a promoter hell bent on impressing the street, quarter after quarter with cooked-up numbers. Or is it a case of negligence on part of shareholders and fund managers who took company’s claims on the face value without doing a proper scrutiny of the various statutory financial statements submitted by the company at the end of each financial year.

    Any company submits basically three kind of financial statements—balance sheet, profit and loss (P&L ) statement and cash flows statement. The balance sheet measures the assets and liabilities of a company at the end of a financial year or quarter.

    The changes in the balance-sheet flow through either the P&L statement or though changes in cash flows from various sources (operations, investment

    or financing). Given this, every year-on-year change in any entry in balance sheet should be matched by a suitable change in other two accounts. It’s common knowledge that it’s easier to cook one account but far tougher and riskier to cook three accounts together.

    And this is what happened in case of Satyam Computers. The market perception that the company was sitting on a cash pile of over Rs 5,000 crore was based on the relevant entry into its balance sheet. However it was not matched by relevant entry into cash flow statement.

    For the year ending March 31, 2008, the company reported a cash and bank balance of Rs 4,461 crore under the head of current asset, loans and advances in its balance sheet. According to its cash flow statement however, the company ended the year with cash and cash equivalent of only Rs 1,153 crore. As the one of the charts above shows, this number matches in case of all other companies including its peers such as Infosys Technologies and Wipro.

    If company is to be believed, long-term deposits with the banks accounted for this discrepancy. But how can the company treat it as cash and cash equivalent in one account and not in other? In fact, any bank deposits are considered to be cash equivalent and treated as such by all companies.

    Even in case of Satyam, the two entries were matching till year-ending March 2002. The discrepancy cropped for the first time in FY03, when suddenly company reported bank (term) deposit of around Rs 820 crore. After that, company’s reported cash and bank balance including term deposits continue to swell without matching growth in cash flows


    In fact, Satyam’s free cash flows (net cash flow from operations minus cash expenses incurred on investing activities) continue to wobble and in fact was negative in two years. Naturally, balance sheet entry regarding ever-growing cash pile was not supported by matching buoyancy in cash flows.

    With each passing year, the situation was getting perilous and the company had to create even bigger fictitious bank deposits to plug the hole in cash flows. It was for all to see. Sadly however the market was too busy tracking its quarterly earning per share and had little time to match the three accounts line by line."

    (End of article)

    How come people didnt read the balance sheet?

    I never do it, its too boring. But thats why analysts are paid good money for!

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