StanChart can finally start to move beyond its woes in India

Standard Chartered last year booked its first loss in more than a quarter century due to a sharp drop in revenue and surging loan impairments


Standard Chartered is one of the biggest winners from Essar’s deal to sell its refinery arm and related facilities to a group of investors including Rosneft at a $13 billion enterprise value. Photo: AFP
Standard Chartered is one of the biggest winners from Essar’s deal to sell its refinery arm and related facilities to a group of investors including Rosneft at a $13 billion enterprise value. Photo: AFP

Mumbai: Standard Chartered Plc can finally start to move beyond its woes in India.

The London-based lender is set to receive a $2.1 billion repayment in the next few weeks from Essar Global, the steel-to-power conglomerate that’s been one of its most problematic borrowers in the country, people with knowledge of the matter said. Standard Chartered may be able to write back around $100 million of provisions it made to cover potential losses on Essar Global loans, according to the people, who asked not to be identified as the information is private.

The bank, which gets most of its business from emerging markets, last year booked its first loss in more than a quarter century due to a sharp drop in revenue and surging loan impairments. Loan impairments from its ongoing business rose in the first half of 2016, due largely to provisions connected to Indian clients and the commodities industry.

A repayment would show progress in the revamp plan of Standard Chartered Chief Executive Officer Bill Winters, who has been shrinking the bank’s balance sheet and tightening lending standards since taking his position last year. Standard Chartered’s woes in India are partly the result of an expansion there that failed to fully factor in the risk of lending to companies like Essar Global, current and former bank employees said in November last year, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Also Read: Essar may start repaying loans in next few weeks

“This repayment is large enough to make a dent in their impaired asset pile and will give a leg up to the bank’s turnaround plan,” Rethish Varma, the Bengaluru-based head of research at Aditya Trading Solutions Ltd., said by phone on Wednesday. “Deleveraging of corporates at a scale like this will give confidence to banks.”

Spending spree

Shares of Standard Chartered rose 0.3% to 678.70 pence at 12:18pm on Wednesday in London, bucking the 0.2% decline in the benchmark FTSE 100 Index.

Standard Chartered is one of the biggest winners from Essar’s deal to sell its refinery arm and related facilities to a group of investors including Rosneft PJSC at a $13 billion enterprise value, Citigroup Inc. wrote in a research note earlier this week. The bank’s nonperforming loan portfolio may be reduced by about 20% if the Essar debt is repaid, according to Citigroup, which reiterated its “buy” rating on Standard Chartered.

Essar Global, owned by the billionaire Ruia brothers, has been grappling with debt after it embarked on an $18 billion spending spree before commodity prices fell. Standard Chartered, which has about $3.1 billion of outstanding lending to Essar Global, plans to replace around $400 million of its exposure with a loan to unlisted operating company Essar Ports Ltd. and will write off the remainder of about $600 million, people with knowledge of the matter said this week.

A representative for Standard Chartered declined to comment. Representatives for Essar Global’s domestic lenders, ICICI Bank Ltd. and Axis Bank Ltd., said they couldn’t immediately comment. Essar said in an e-mailed statement on Tuesday its intent is to reduce debt at the level of both the holding company and its operating companies. The final amounts will be decided at the time of closure of the transaction, it said in the statement.

Holding on

“On completion of the transaction, the exposure of Indian lenders to Essar Global would be resolved with around 50% of the exposure repaid in cash,” Essar said in a separate statement on Wednesday.

Standard Chartered has been in India since 1858, but it was after the 2008 global financial crisis that the country became a main growth engine. The bank established ties with about 17 of India’s biggest business groups, most of which are family-owned.

Unlike Standard Chartered, Essar Global’s domestic lenders are holding on. The Indian conglomerate plans to pay a combined $300 million to ICICI Bank and Axis Bank now, plus another $250 million after completing the sale of Essar Oil Ltd., which is expected in the first quarter of 2017, the people said. After that, the two banks will still keep about $450 million of combined exposure to Essar Global, which will be backed by adequate collateral, according to the people.

The domestic lenders haven’t made any provisions for the Essar Global loans in the past and don’t currently plan to make any writedowns, the people said. Bloomberg

More From Livemint