For 18 months, as Infosys shares slumped from a record high, the only consistent “sell” rating on India’s most widely held stock came from a 29-year-old analyst at an investment group little known outside the country.
Other analysts have joined Ankur Rudra in downgrading Infosys, but he says clients were initially sceptical of his call on a company famous for consistently exceeding expectations.
“How can you be right? How can you know more than what the management knows?” he recalls them asking.
Rudra’s report on the Indian IT services sector, titled “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall…” and describing Infosys as living in “limbo land”, was issued on January 14 last year, just after the stock peaked.
Since then the company has lost a third of its value on a series of disappointing revenue forecasts and other announcements that have rattled investors.
Rudra, who studied electrical engineering before becoming an analyst seven years ago, said in the report that the “sell” rating reflected “stratospheric long-term expectations” built into valuations for the IT bellwether.
The valuations of Infosys and rival Tata Consultancy Services were both around 21 times 12-month forward earnings at the time. Now, Infosys trades at about 13 times forward earnings compared with 17 times for TCS.
Globally, analysts can be shy about putting sell ratings on stocks because that can make it harder for their firms to win advisory business and can irritate the management of companies.
Just 9 percent of analyst recommendations by banks and brokerages globally were a “sell”, based on more than 120,000 recommendations issued on nearly 17,000 companies, according to a Reuters study of StarMine data.
In India, 18 percent of analyst recommendations are a “sell” or a “strong sell”, according to current Starmine data.
“Most firms want to be objective, but tend to be crowd-pleasing. So when you put sell on a stock, not only do you cheese off management teams, you also cheese off holders a lot,” Rudra said, adding that he faced no backlash from Infosys management.
Ambit, an independent Mumbai-based house, unusually only has “buy” or “sell” ratings after scrapping the “hold” option in June 2011. About 40 percent of its recommendations are sell.
Thomson Reuters StarMine gives Rudra a ranking of five stars, the highest level, based on his calls on stock moves. For Infosys’ rivals, he has a “buy” rating on top-ranked Tata Consultancy Services and a “sell” on third-placed Wipro.
Of the 55 analysts covering Infosys and tracked by Thomson Reuters StarMine, five have a “sell” rating and one has a “strong sell”. Of the remainder, 23 are neutral and 26 rate Infosys a buy or strong buy.