Modi Tackles $117 Billion of Bad Debt by Easing Rules for Buyers

  • Asset reconstruction companies can have single investor now
  • KKR, Edelweiss, JM Financial say move to help ARCs raise funds

Facing a daunting 8 trillion rupees ($117 billion) of stressed assets in its financial system, India is stepping up efforts to tackle an issue that is threatening to derail Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s development agenda.

In a boost to a 700 billion-rupee recapitalization program already under way, the government allowed a single investor to fully own an asset reconstruction company, making it easier to raise capital. An earlier rule capped the ownership at 50 percent. ARCs buy bad loans and collateral from lenders, and work on recovery by revamping businesses and assets.

“The industry was constrained so far due to the 50 percent limit on sponsor’s share holding,” said Siby Antony, chief executive officer at Mumbai-based Edelweiss Asset Reconstruction Co., the nation’s biggest. His firm will now seek more funds from its parent Edelweiss Financial Services Ltd., he said.

The success of ARCs is crucial to reviving credit growth in the $2 trillion economy as lenders saddled with stressed assets at a 14-year high struggle to clean up their balance sheets. Modi needs the nation’s banks to get back on their feet at the earliest to help transform his vision of creating jobs through faster growth into reality.

While presenting the federal budget for the year starting April 1, Modi’s Finance Minister Arun Jaitley eased the ownership rule for ARCs and also signaled he may raise the limit on foreign ownership from 74 percent. He also allocated 250 billion rupees for recapitalization of state-owned lenders for the year starting April 1, same as the outlay in the current year.

ARCs are expecting record business after Reserve Bank of India Governor Raghuram Rajan set lenders a March 2017 deadline to clean up their balance sheets. He allowed those completing a deal by March to spread losses from the distressed-asset sale over two years.

Stressed bank loans in India, including soured and restructured debt, are estimated at about 8 trillion rupees, according to Junior Finance Minister Jayant Sinha. Edelweiss ARC, which has taken more than 550 billion rupees of soured debt, is the largest buyer in India.

ARCs bought about 70 billion rupees of the 380 billion rupees of bad debt banks offered in the nine months through December, said Antony of Edelweiss.

KKR & Co., the buyout firm founded by George R. Roberts and Henry R. Kravis, said that the government’s move will help lenders clean up their balance sheets.

Right Direction

“It’s a step in the right direction to capitalize the asset reconstruction companies,” Sanjay Nayar, chief executive officer for KKR’s India unit, said by phone.

KKR will buy a stake in Mumbai-based International Asset Reconstruction Co., the Economic Times newspaper reported on Jan. 6. 

State Bank of India, the country’s largest lender by assets, rose 2.1 percent to 162.05 rupees in Mumbai. ICICI Bank Ltd. surged 7.8 percent, the most in 10 months, and Bank of Baroda jumped 3.2 percent, the biggest gain in two weeks.

There are 15 ARCs after India passed the Securitization and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Interest Act in 2002 to help reorganize non-performing credit.

Loans in India grew 11.5 percent in the 12 months through Feb. 5, less than the five-year average of 14.7 percent, central bank data show.

“Enabling sponsors to hold 100 percent of an ARC and allowing 100 percent foreign direct investment will open up avenues,” said V.P. Shetty, executive chairman of JM Financial Asset Reconstruction Co. “That will facilitate them to effectively participate in the huge non-performing asset market in India.”

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