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Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Dramatic Fall of India’s Largest Jewelry Company

Mehul Choksi, managing director of Gitanjali Group, is under investigation for stock market manipulations.

One of the world’s largest diamond and jewelry companies has quickly fallen on hard times. The Gitanjali Group, which bills itself as the “world’s largest integrated conglomerate of diamonds, jewelry and lifestyle brands,” has seen its share price fall 79 percent in a month, largely due to the Reserve Bank of India's recent restrictions on gold imports that has damaged much of the jewelry trade in the country. However, the latest setback on Thursday appears to have been self afflicted.

Gitanjali’s managing director, Mehul Choksi, has been suspended of trading activities by the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), as part of a probe into suspected market manipulations, according to reports by the Economic Times of India and other publications in the country.

Choksi is one of 26 individuals and firms that were suspended Thursday, according to reports. They are all suspected of being linked with a securities and stock brokerage services company called Prime Broking Company (India) Ltd., which also operates under the name Prime Securities. The company is described by The Economic Times as a “significant shareholder” of Gitanjali. Choksi is the leading shareholder of Gitanjali with a 51 percent stake. They are being investigated for allegedly making trades while concealing their identities, according to the report. 

According to a second story in The Economic Times, Gitanjali shares appear to be in the center of this investigation. Several investors reportedly purchased Gitanjali shares through Prime Broking, “which allegedly pledged these without their consent to take exposure on the derivatives segment of NSE.” Two of the suspended parties have filed police reports against Prime Broking.

The company that began in 1966 as a cutting and polishing diamond operation for the jewelry trade has undergone dramatic and expansive growth. Gitanjali now operates on five continents and in just about every sector of the jewelry industry. It is one of India’s largest diamond manufacturers, jewelry manufacturers and retailers. It manufactures rough diamonds, designs and builds jewelry, creates jewelry brands and distributes diamonds and jewelry for wholesale and retail—including its own stores in India, the US and other parts of the world. It claims to be:

* The world’s largest number of established jewelry brands under one roof;

* A distributor and retailer with 4,000 points of sales throughout the world; and

* The largest precious jewelry manufacturer in the world, with the ability to produce 235,000 jewelry pieces per month across nine manufacturing facilities.

In India—in addition to its vast manufacturing, design, distribution and retail operations—it owns approximately 20 jewelry brands, each one fronted by a Bollywood star.

Among its holdings in the US is Samuels Jewelers, the country’s fifth largest retail jewelry chain with 111 stores. In Italy, it owns five jewelry brands under the name “Leading Italian Jewelers,” with the most prominent being luxury jewelry brand Stefan Hafner. It also has large operations in Belgium, UK, Japan, China, Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

If that’s not enough, the company owns 17 watch brands (including Italian brands Morellato and Pirelli) and several brands that deal in household products, particularly tableware and silverware, that include the Italian companies Greggio Argento and Donatella.

Gitanjali’s influence on the worldwide jewelry trade cannot be underestimated. Its suffering may have a domino effect—particularly in India..

The company trades on the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) and the National Stock Exchange of India (NSE). Since June 24, the company went from a high of 550 rupees ($9.21) to a low of 115 ($1.93) on the BSE. It last traded at 115.60 rupees.

The impact of this setback will soon be known as markets will open in a few hours.

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