LIC & ONGC: An insurer discovers love in dying minutes
True love can happen in minutes. And so LIC discovered that it was dying for ONGC's shares just before the embers of the auction process were dying.
Looks like the disinvestment ministry has taken the Life Insurance Corporation's tagline ('Why go anywhere else?') a bit too seriously.
Minutes before the government's first-ever disinvestment through the auction route was about to end in a fiasco, India's government-owned life insurer had to throw its owners a lifeline. It was roped in to bail out ONGC's floundering issue on Thursday.
The disinvestment ministry's additional secretary, Siddhartha Pradhan, of course, completely denied that there was any pressure on LIC to invest in ONGC.
As if one cue, the insurance company on Friday said that it "had found value" in the stock and that is why it had made a small purchase worth Rs 3,880 crore.
This amount, by some strange coincidence, was almost equal to the shortfall that the issue faced at the close of trading hours.To top it all, LIC's buying announcement came late in the night and the delay was conveniently attributed to technical and punching errors.
It is understandable if a small retail broker makes such an error, but the orders were directed through some of the biggest brokers in the country by a fund (LIC) which buys and sells crore worth of shares every month. And if an order worth Rs 3,880 crore was to be punched, the senior-most executive is generally present. In a normal day, given the brokerage given by LIC to its brokers, this would have resulted in a brokerage income of Rs 3.8 crore in one transaction only.
The other quaint fact is LIC's discovery of value in the ONGC stock a few minutes before the auction closed. The fact is the insurer has been holding nearly 3 percent of ONGC shares and has been regularly trading in and out of the company. LIC needs to re-evaluate its discovery process as the stock did not bleep on its radar when the price was 20 percent lower a month back.
The insurance company has also 'discovered value' in a series of banks, which needed equity infusion from the government.Given the series of disinvestments planned over the next few weeks, it would not be surprising if LIC's discoveries take it the UTI way.
For a company that has made money on the pretext of covering risk, it needs to follow its own advice.
Having the government of India as owner is the biggest risk to the future of the LIC.