Essar Steel auction: A perception game plays out in the public

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As bids of ArcelorMittal and Numetal for Essar Steel are being evaluated this week, there is a parallel tussle playing out on mainstream media and social media platforms. This battle is not so much about as the merit of the bids as much as it is about the perception of the bidders’ eligibility.

Over the last couple of weeks, both the sides have been taking potshots at each other through press releases and media interviews. In addition, there is also a proxy war through anonymous Whatsapp forwards.

This writer has been tagged on tweets that promote one of the two companies in contention. The profile of the tweeters make for interesting read. While one is a “former web content writer, food blogger,” another’s profile reads – “Studied Pol Sci. Ryan International School, Cricket Lover and Politically Concerned.”

Surely, neither has connection with the steel industry, or with what is happening at the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT), which is responsible for the auctions. So are these promoted tweets?

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There have been high profile visits from both the sides. Last week, ArcelorMittal’s Lakshmi Mittal visited Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and later commented: “”I think we can create value in Essar Steel with our experience.”

Later, officials at ArcelorMittal reiterated that the company’s global experience in turning around operations make it the most eligible to acquire Essar Steel. The Indian steel company, owned by the Ruia family, had accumulated nearly Rs 50,000 crore in debt before being referred to the NCLT last year.

Meanwhile, ArcelorMittal’s India unit – ArcelorMittal India Private Limited – was assigned a long-term issuer rating of AA by credit rating agency ICRA, and the outlook on long-term rating was ‘Positive.’

It now also has the backing of Japan’s Nippon Steel, which has joined hands with ArcelorMittal for the Essar Steel bid. A press release on the same was sent out on March 2.

“But this was already known. What is the need for a press release now,” asked an official from the industry. “Is it a diversion tactic,” he added.

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