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Fear Is Biggest Obstacle for Investors in Bankrupt Indian Firms

  • Lenders have ‘fear psychosis’ about decisions going wrong
  • India is probing bankers for alleged impropriety over loans

The wait for investors to acquire some of the $210 billion of stressed assets up for grabs in India is likely to get longer. That’s because creditors are afraid to take decisions.

Current and former top bankers from at least four state-run lenders are under investigation for alleged impropriety over their lending decisions, while the Central Bureau of Investigation has started a preliminary inquiry into an alleged nexus between Videocon Chairman Venugopal Dhoot and the spouse of ICICI Bank Ltd. CEO Chanda Kochhar after ICICI extended credit to the conglomerate.

Indecisiveness among bankers is pushing insolvent companies toward liquidation, which erodes the value of the assets, said Hemant Kanoria, chairman of SREI Infrastructure Finance Ltd.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s attempt to slash bad loans and accelerate the pace of lending is being stymied by his fight on corruption. Creditors are concerned that the nation’s investigative agencies will second-guess their decisions to conclude bankruptcy sales. Alok Industries Ltd. and Lanco Infratech Ltd. are among the large stressed borrowers that are heading for liquidation after the bids to buy these firms didn’t receive required approval from the so-called lenders’ committee, exchange filings show.

“Despite receiving bids from willing buyers, some of the companies are going into liquidation as there is a fear psychosis among lenders,” Kanoria, whose firm is a creditor to several companies that have been referred to the bankruptcy court, said in an interview at the Bloomberg office in Mumbai last week. “Bankers want the decision off their back as they can be probed later and they could just end up behind bars.”

Dithering Bankers

Meanwhile investors from Blackstone Group LP to Oaktree Capital Group LLC wait in the sidelines. Oaktree “under the right circumstances,” may open a physical office in India at some point, according to Jay Wintrob, chief executive officer at the Los Angeles-based firm.

Federal investigators are probing allegations of impropriety against bankers including Kishor Kharat -- the chief executive officer of Indian Bank, Melwyn Rego -- CEO of Syndicate Bank, M S Raghavan -- former chairman of IDBI Bank and Arun Kaul -- former head of UCO Bank, regarding loan-approvals they were part of in their current or former roles.

State Bank of India Chairman Rajnish Kumar discusses bad loans, corruption in the financial industry.

Source: Bloomberg

Bankers are dithering about taking some decisions as they fear that if the decision goes wrong, even five-to-seven years down the line, it could be subject to probes the way some of their peers are undergoing now, Rajnish Kumar, chairman of State Bank of India, the country’s largest lender, said in an interview to Bloomberg TV in Manila. “But on the other side, while taking decisions, people will be more careful and would take effort to properly document their rationale.”

‘Doubt & Fear’

Bankers would prefer liquidation if they believe they won’t be able to recover at least a quarter of their dues, Kumar said. Even under a wind down, investors can bid for the companies and some of them might be revived too, Uday Kotak, managing director of Kotak Mahindra Bank Ltd., told reporters last week.

Read: Banks Are Said to Seek Wind Up of India Firms Owing $5.8 Billion

However, each of these liquidations is destroying valuable assets, wrecking supply chains, and razing eco-systems, which will take money and time to recreate, said Kanoria, whose finance company has assets worth 467 billion rupees ($7 billion) under management.

“Steps have to be taken to make sure that this environment of doubt and fear is put to an end and decision-making is encouraged,” he said.

— With assistance by Bibhudatta Pradhan, and Karthikeyan Sundaram

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