“The group has good valuable assets and the best thing for all stakeholders at this stage is to monetize assets," said one of the two people.
Following the demise of Siddhartha, the CDEL board held an emergency meeting on Wednesday to decide on the company’s immediate course of action and appoint a new interim chairman to replace the founder. Siddhartha’s body was found near the Netravathi river on Wednesday morning, after he went missing on Monday.
At Wednesday’s meeting, the board named non-executive director S.V. Ranganath as the interim chairman. Ranganath is a retired IAS officer and served as Karnataka’s chief secretary between 2009 and 2013.
Nitin Bagmane, chairman of Tanglin Developments Ltd, a unit of CDEL, was named the interim chief operating officer. The board hired Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas as its legal counsel.
It also constituted an executive committee comprising Ranganath, Bagmane and chief financial officer R. Ram Mohan to jointly carry out the CEO-level responsibilities and “explore opportunities to deleverage the Coffee Day Group", the company said in an exchange filing after the board meeting.
CDEL also announced that its board has initiated a probe into past transactions made by the company and Siddhartha. “The board took cognizance of statements in the purported letter from V.G. Siddhartha relating to financial transactions outside the knowledge of the senior management, auditors and the board. While the authenticity of the letter is unverified and it is unclear whether these statements pertain to the company or the personal holdings of V.G. Siddhartha, the board took serious note of the same and resolved to thoroughly investigate this matter," the company said in the filing.
On Wednesday, credit rating agency Icra Ltd placed CDEL on a watch with negative implications, saying the developments may have a negative impact on its operations.
As on 31 March, CDEL’s total assets were worth around ₹11,259 crore, according to the firm. CDEL first wants to verify some of the claims made by Siddhartha in the purported letter with regard to transactions, which are allegedly not known to anyone in the company or his family, said the first person cited earlier.
“The most sensitive part in the letter is about disclosures on transactions. I don’t think there is any hidden information, unless it is done by Siddhartha in his personal capacity, but it will be prudent as a board to conduct an audit review and investigate the matter to clear off all doubts," the person said, adding that the company will start selling assets to take care of the debts only after the audit review.
Siddhartha, in the letter purportedly written by him to the CDEL board on 27 July, indicated that the company’s rising debt load was the main cause for his personal stress. “Tremendous pressure from other lenders lead to me succumbing to the situation," the letter read.
CDEL, whose main subsidiaries include Coffee Day Global Ltd (coffee business), Sical Logistics Ltd (integrated logistics), Tanglin Developments Ltd (real estate), Way2Wealth (financial services) and Coffee Day Hotels and Resorts Ltd (hospitality)—had debt obligations of at least ₹7,653 crore as on 31 March. The borrowings of all CDEL subsidiaries (bank loans and NCDs) worked out to ₹6,547.38 crore; at a consolidated level, the short-term debt obligations were ₹1,106 crore. On a stand-alone basis, CDEL’s borrowings were only around ₹350 crore, while its subsidiary Coffee Day Global alone had debt obligations of ₹879.67 crore as on 31 March, according to the balance sheet filed by the company.
However, there is no clarity on personal borrowings by Siddhartha or the unlisted group companies.
CDEL received ₹687.01 crore from the sale of shares held in software services firm Mindtree Ltd. This was used to repay some debt. However, it is not known how much debt the company owes the lenders.
As on 31 March, CDEL had a total of 52 subsidiaries, associates and joint ventures.
“The best assets held by CCD group are in the coffee business and real estate ventures. The coffee business can fetch close to ₹8,000 crore, and real estate can fetch ₹3,000-4,000 crore. There have been some talks with Coca-Cola for a partnership but Coca-Cola is still evaluating the terms regarding ownership," said the second person, who is directly aware of the stake sale mandate given by CCD. Even Siddhartha’s letter mentions that CCD was in talks with Coca-Cola and ITC to explore a potential “partnership".
Siddhartha’s letter also mentions that Cafe Coffee Day—with 1,600 stores, 54,000 vending machines and more than 500 express stores—is valued at three-four times its revenue, with a potential net present value of ₹7,000-8,000 crore.
“The deal could either be a buyout of CDEL by Coca-Cola or forming a separate joint venture between CCD and Coke. Non-coffee businesses that come under CDEL can be hived off altogether to a separate entity. But with the sudden death of Siddhartha, the deal may take longer than expected. However, asset sale is the best strategy for the group at the moment," added the second person.
Siddhartha allegedly wrote in the letter that he succumbed to pressure from lenders and some private equity firms. He also said there were certain transactions that no one in the company or his family was aware of. Further, in the letter, he alleged harassment by certain income-tax (I-T) officials. The I-T department had provisionally attached his shares in CDEL, which resulted in a liquidity crunch for the firm.