Gopichand Hinduja seeks $15 billion bank haircut in India’s debt clean-up

Indian banks and authorities need to understand that with small haircuts they would not be able to find investors, says Gopichand Hinduja


Indian peers are more wary and tend to wait for the economic tide to turn, said Hinduja, whose group is looking at stressed assets in businesses including solar energy.
Indian peers are more wary and tend to wait for the economic tide to turn, said Hinduja, whose group is looking at stressed assets in businesses including solar energy.

San Francisco: Billionaire Gopichand Hinduja says India’s banks are placing too high a price on their distressed assets.

That’s thwarting his Hinduja Group and other investors keen to buy bad debts, according to London-based co-chairman of the industrial conglomerate. He is among four brothers controlling the closely-held entity that has interests in automobiles, finance, media and energy. India’s government in February estimated the banking industry’s stressed assets, which include restructured and soured loans, at roughly Rs.8 trillion.

As much as “$15 billion of haircuts are required to be taken by the sector, of which over 90% would need to be by nationalized banks,” Hinduja wrote in an e-mail. “Indian banks and authorities need to understand that with small haircuts they would not be able to find investors.”

Mounting bad loans and inadequate risk buffers at state-run banks have prompted the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to initiate a clean-up of lenders’ balance sheets, a task high on the agenda for Urjit Patel, who takes charge as governor on 4 September. Canada’s Brookfield Asset Management Inc. and US private equity firm Apollo Global Management Llc are among investors seen partnering local firms to invest in stressed assets in Asia’s third-largest economy.

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The proportion of stressed assets surged to a 16-year high of 11.5% as of 31 March, central bank data show. State-run lenders account for more than 70% of the total outstanding advances in the system, and outgoing RBI governor Raghuram Rajan has set a March 2017 deadline for lenders to clean up their balance sheets by increasing provisioning, a move that has weighed on their profitability.

Banks in Western countries at times pare down loans by up to 60% of their value during troubled times, according to Richard Bove, US-based vice-president of equity research at Rafferty Capital Markets Llc.

Indian peers are more wary and tend to wait for the economic tide to turn, said Hinduja, whose group is looking at stressed assets in businesses including solar energy.

‘Raising eyebrows’

“In India, owing to the fear of raising unnecessary eyebrows and being accused of selling assets cheap, banks do not want to bring down their valuations much,” he said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government was said to consider forming a three-member panel to approve the bad-loan settlement plans of state-run banks, The Economic Times newspaper reported in April, citing an official it didn’t name. Such a move will whet the appetite of investors looking to pick up such assets.

That includes Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, which in March partnered with billionaire Uday Kotak’s Kotak Mahindra Group for a total investment of as much as $525 million in Indian stressed assets. Brookfield Asset in July signed a pact with State Bank of India to set up a joint venture for similar investments.

ICICI Bank Ltd, India’s largest private lender by assets, will seek to sell about four of its largest non-performing loans to an asset-reconstruction company it plans to set up as a joint venture with Apollo Global, a person with knowledge of the matter said in August.

Industries such as power, infrastructure, and steel have a high concentration of stressed assets, but also “long-term latent growth potential,” which could mean better profitability in coming years, according to Mihir Chandra, Hong Kong-based head of Asia research at SC Lowy, an independent fixed-income firm.

“Indian banks need to get more realistic about bad loans and take appropriate haircuts on stressed assets to clean up their balance sheets,” said Chandra. “There is a pricing mismatch currently.” Bloomberg

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