New Delhi: A day after allowing asset reconstruction companies (ARCs) to take equity stakes in bad assets of banks through amendment of the Securitisation and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Interest (SARFAESI) Act in Parliament, the government on Friday raised foreign investment limit in ARCs to 74% from 49% at present.
The proposal is considered critical to boost the asset reconstruction business in India at a time when bad loans in the banking system have been on the rise in a slowing economy. Gross non-performing assets (NPAs) in the banking system were around 3.5% of the total assets at the end of the first half of this fiscal, according to government estimates. Cumulatively, banks restructured Rs.1.9 trillion of loans till September.
In a press statement, the finance ministry said 74% would be the combined limit for foreign direct investors (FDIs) and foreign institutional investors (FIIs), removing the prohibition on FIIs investing in ARCs. “The total shareholding of an individual FII shall not exceed 10% of the total paid-up capital,” it added.
A single sponsor will not be allowed to hold more than 50% of the shareholding in an ARC either by way of FDI or FII. “The foreign investment in ARCs would need to comply with the FDI policy in terms of entry route conditionality and sectoral caps,” the statement said.
S.C. Bhatia, chief executive officer of Phoenix ARC, said the move is is more of an enabler and it will take time to produce results. “Unless banks are incentivised to sell (bad loans) to ARCs, I don’t see a flood of equity coming into ARCs,” he said.
There are several regulatory restrictions imposed by the Reserve Bank of India on the source of funding that ARCs can tap. Out of the available sources, banks, notified financial institutions and non-banking financial companies do not lend much to ARCs. Another source of liquidity for ARCs could have been domestic funds, but there are a very few in India focused on distressed assets. Since foreign investors are minority shareholders at present, they don’t take an active part in the revival of assets.
Typically, ARCs set up separate trusts to acquire individual assets. These trusts issue security receipts (SRs) against the bad assets bought. The SRs are bought by banks themselves as qualified institutional buyers, or QIBs, as well as other investors. Under the current laws, banks can undertake corporate debt restructuring and convert some of the debt into equity according to prescribed guidelines. But no such option was available for asset reconstruction companies (ARCs). They acquire bad debts from banks and other lenders at a discount and then try to recover them, earning a fee.
Through the amendment of the SARFAESI Act by passing the Enforcement of Security Interest and Recovery of Debts Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2011 in Parliament, the government allowed ARCs to take equity interest in such bad debts.
The finance ministry also increased the limit of FII investment in SRs from 49% to 74%. It has also done away with the individual limit of 10% for investment of a single FII in each tranche of SRs issued by ARCs. “Such investment should be within the FII limit on corporate bonds prescribed from time to time, and sectoral caps under the extant FDI regulations should be complied with,” it added.