Mumbai: The Securities Appellate Tribunal (SAT) passed an order on 30 October 2023 allowing Mr. Punit Goenka to become CEO and MD of the merged company, Zee Entertainment-Sony (Z-Sony). Based on our assessment of the detailed order (Zee SAT order) and channel checks with legal experts, we believe the SAT order is a positive for Goenka, as it states he can continue as MD and CEO, as there no strong evidence yet to support the allegations of money siphoning against him; further, his counsel has provided adequate evidence and documents to substantiate it.
Post this order, there is a high likelihood the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) will appeal against the order in the Supreme Court to get a stay; however, Z-Sony merged co. can be formed with Goenka as its head in the interim. The SAT order also states the investigation in this case will continue; as per our assessment, the outcome could take 12-18 months; Goenka could obtain necessary legal recourse in case the outcome is against him in the medium term; if it is favourable, he will continue as usual.
This underscores our view that there is no likelihood of Sony backing out from the merger, and Goenka getting relief could lead to expedited timelines for the merged entity to be formed with him at the helm, as it may not require changes in the term sheet or any shareholder and Board approval. Further, appeals made by Axis Finance and IDBI Bank will have no impact on the merger, and the NCLT approval is without any conditions. We believe the merged entity record date could be announced in the last week of November or in the first week of December, which means the merged firm could be listed in January 2024 (post six weeks of delisting). We maintain BUY with a Sep’24 TP of Rs 340.
SAT order removes overhang on merger: Goenka to be reinstated as CEO of merged entity
The SAT order is a significant victory for Goenka. Nevertheless, it is expected that SEBI will persist with its investigation, as the allegations against Zee Entertainment appear to hold merit. However, Sony will have to appoint Goenka as CEO of the merged company; further, this will not lead to change in the merged entity board and merger timelines. It is highly likely that SEBI will file a statutory appeal against the SAT order in the Supreme Court in the next 60 days. If this were to take place, the earliest date for a hearing would be scheduled for the first week of January 2024. Therefore, we believe there is no likelihood of Sony backing out of the merger as there are no legal constraints preventing it from proceeding. Further, the cases before the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) against Zee will continue and will have no impact on the merger.
SEBI to continue with the investigation without a timeframe
As per the order, SAT has acknowledged the allegations of fund diversion have yet to be proven, and both Zee Entertainment (Z IN) and Goenka have presented satisfactory explanations supported by documentation, effectively fulfilling the burden of proof. Additionally, SAT also says it has noted factual inaccuracies in the order issued by whole-time members regarding specific companies that were classified as Essel Group companies when in fact they were not, but at this moment it is not fair to punish Goenka because the merger of Zee-Sony has been allowed. Nevertheless, SAT has granted SEBI the authority to proceed with its inquiry into the alleged fund diversion of Rs 42.1bn by Subhash Chandra and Goenka, without establishing a specific timeframe for the investigation. Z and Goenka have been instructed to cooperate with the investigation.
Merged entity likely to be listed between December 2023 and March 2024
We expect the merged entity to get listed anytime between December 2023 and March 2024. This will depend on how Sony wants to take it forward. The RoC (Registrar of Companies) filing has been done and processes required for the merger could end in the next four weeks. The investigation timeline could vary between 12 and 18 months post the merged entity is formed. In case allegations are not proven, things will continue as usual. However, in case allegations are proven, Goenka may have to step down or find legal recourse. Post the merged entity is formed with Goenka as CEO, our checks with legal experts indicate that Sony may also support Goenka in legal proceedings against SEBI, which also provides comfort.
We retain our positive stance on Z-Sony merged company
In the newly configured merged entity Board, five out of nine directors would represent Sony, with the Chairman also hailing from Sony. This shift in Board composition is anticipated to lead to an enhancement in corporate governance at Z along with a change in management dynamic favouring Sony. We retain our positive stance, led by:
1) synergistic benefits
2) MNC control (superior corporate governance practices)
3) positive impact of consolidation in the TV industry
4) Scaling up of the OTT business.
The credit of this article goes to Elara Capital SVP Karan Taurani