Zenith Infotech and The Trouble With Convertible Bonds

By Jessica Davis  |  Print this article Print

Zenith Infotech defaulted on foreign currency convertible bonds. What are they, and how could a default like this have happened? Blame it on the worldwide economic problems.

The news about Zenith Infotech's bond default and subsequent questions about whether it's really a stable financial partner for MSPs have dogged channel partners and the industry since the news went public in October. Indeed, some competitiors to Zenith Infotech have even been leveraging doubts about company's stability. (Is anyone really surprised by that?)

For its part, Zenith Infotech maintains that it is financially viable and stable. But some wonder how that is possible if the company has defaulted on $85 million in bonds. I wish I knew the answer to that. Zenith Infotech is not elaborating.

According to Investopedia.com convertible bonds are "essentially, corporate bonds that can be converted by the holder into the common stock of the issuing company."  

These were apparently popular among Indian companies during the mid-2000s. Risk.net, a London-based publication covering financial investments and risk, said in a May 2011 article that "FCCBs (foreign currency convertible bonds) became the favored instrument to raise capital for Indian companies during the bull run from 2004 to 2007. Most issuers were on a high growth trajectory and assumed that increased future earnings would induce investors to convert their bonds to equity at some stage."

But that didn't really happen, Risk.net notes. Instead, "The Indian equity market is nowhere near the levels it was during 2007 and plummeted by almost 17 percent between November 2010 and February 2011. As a result the conversion price for most of the outstanding FCCBs is way above the company's current stock price."

So that means the bond holders, unsurprisingly, haven't converted to equity, leaving the issuing company with the problem of how to pay off the bond holder at the end of the term.

Zenith Infotech is far from alone in this situation. In May Risk.net stated that about 80 companies had FCCBs maturing in the next 12 to 15 months with a combined payout of $8 billion.

Issuing companies are left with the options of paying back the bonds, raising capital to pay them back or getting additional loans to pay them back. However, with the current economic difficulties worldwide, many companies are experiencing difficulty doing any of these things.

In the Zenith Infotech matter, a further complication looms. Just five days after it defaulted on the bonds, Zenith Infotech sold a majority stake in Zenith RMM to Summit Parters, a private equity firm.  According to this late September 2011 Redmond Partner News interview with Zenith Infotech CEO Akash Saraf, Zenith RMM accounts for about one-third of the former Zenith Infotech's $80 million in annual revenues. Zenith RMM which is based in Boston has about 600 employees and owns a network operations center (NOC) in India that supports Zenith RMM's 3,000 partners and 400,000 managed endpoints.

After the spin off, Zenith Infotech has about 500 employees and maintains a headquarters in Mumbai with a U.S. headquarters outside of Pittsburgh in Warrendale, Pa.

In the RCP interview, Saraf said that the primary motivation for the spinoff was to gain additional R&D resources for both businesses. He said Zenith spent $22 million on R&D last year.

QVT Financial, the hedge fund which holds Zenith Infotech's bonds, hasn't been happy about the spin off of such a big asset just five days after the bond default. In fact, it's taken Zenith Infotech to court, seeking financial disclosures about the Zenith RMM deal.

A Zenith Infotech spokeswoman said that Zenith Infotech CEO Akash Saraf "is taking the court order matter very seriously. He wants to assure all the stakeholders that we are committed to getting the situation resolved as quickly as possible."

Jessica Davis covers the channel for eWeek and Channel Insider. Her technology journalism career began well before anyone heard of the World Wide Web and has included stints at Infoworld, Electronic News/EDN, and the Philadelphia Business Journal. Her work has also appeared on CNN and Forbes.com. She has covered hardware, software and networking, as well as the business side of technology. She has won several journalism awards, including a national ASBPE award for best staff-written column, and was named Marketing Computers hardest working tech journalist on their inaugural list of top tech journalists. Jessica can be reached at jessica.davis@ziffdavisenterprise.com