Global Significance of Chinese Investments. My Deliberations in Mumbai (04/03/2018)

Legends:

What are fitted values in statistics?

The values for an output variable that have been predicted by a model fitted to a set of data. a statistical is generally an equation, the graph of which includes or approximates a majority of data points in a given data set. Fitted values are generated by extending the model of past known data points in order to predict unknown values. These are also called predicted values.

What are outliers in statistics?

These are observation points that are distant from other observations and may arise due to variability in the measurement  or it may indicate experimental errors. These may also arise due to heavy tailed distribution.

What is LBS (Locational Banking statistics)?

The locational banking statistics gather quarterly data on international financial claims and liabilities of bank offices in the reporting countries. Total positions are broken down by currency, by sector (bank and non-bank), by country of residence of the counterparty, and by nationality of reporting banks. Both domestically-owned and foreign-owned banking offices in the reporting countries record their positions on a gross (unconsolidated) basis, including those vis-à-vis own affiliates in other countries. This is consistent with the residency principle of national accounts, balance of payments and external debt statistics.

What is CEIC?

Census and Economic Information Centre

What are spillover effects?

These refer to the impact that seemingly unrelated events in one nation can have on the economies of other nations. since 2009, China has emerged a major source of spillover effects. This is because Chinese manufacturers have driven much of the global commodity demand growth since 2000. With China now being the second largest economy in the world, the number of countries that experience spillover effects from a Chinese slowdown is significant. China slowing down has a palpable impact on worldwide trade in metals, energy, grains and other commodities.

How does China deal with its Non-Performing Assets?

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China adopted a four-point strategy to address the problems. The first was to reduce risks by strengthening banks and spearheading reforms of the state-owned enterprises (SOEs) by reducing their level of debt. The Chinese ensured that the nationalized banks were strengthened by raising disclosure standards across the board.

The second important measure was enacting laws that allowed the creation of asset management companies, equity participation and most importantly, asset-based securitization. The “securitization” approach is being taken by the Chinese to handle even their current NPA issue and is reportedly being piloted by a handful of large banks with specific emphasis on domestic investors. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), this is a prudent and preferred strategy since it gets assets off the balance sheets quickly and allows banks to receive cash which could be used for lending.

The third key measure that the Chinese took was to ensure that the government had the financial loss of debt “discounted” and debt equity swaps were allowed in case a growth opportunity existed. The term “debt-equity swap” (or “debt-equity conversion”) means the conversion of a heavily indebted or financially distressed company’s debt into equity or the acquisition by a company’s creditors of shares in that company paid for by the value of their loans to the company. Or, to put it more simply, debt-equity swaps transfer bank loans from the liabilities section of company balance sheets to common stock or additional paid-in capital in the shareholders’ equity section.

Let us imagine a company, as on the left-hand side of the below figure, with assets of 500, bank loans of 300, miscellaneous debt of 200, common stock of 50 and a carry-forward loss of 50. By converting 100 of its debt into equity (transferring 50 to common stock and 50 to additional paid-in capital), thereby improving the balance sheet position and depleting additional paid-in capital (or using the net income from the following year), as on the right-hand side of the figure, the company escapes insolvency. The former creditors become shareholders, suddenly acquiring 50% of the voting shares and control of the company.

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The first benefit that results from this is the improvement in the company’s finances produced by the reduction in debt. The second benefit (from the change in control) is that the creditors become committed to reorganizing the company, and the scope for moral hazard by the management is limited. Another benefit is one peculiar to equity: a return (i.e., repayment) in the form of an increase in enterprise value in the future. In other words, the fact that the creditors stand to make a return on their original investment if the reorganization is successful and the value of the business rises means that, like the debtor company, they have more to gain from this than from simply writing off their loans. If the reorganization is not successful, the equity may, of course, prove worthless.

The fourth measure they took was producing incentives like tax breaks, exemption from administrative fees and transparent evaluations norms. These strategic measures ensured the Chinese were on top of the NPA issue in the early 2000s, when it was far larger than it is today. The noteworthy thing is that they were indeed successful in reducing NPAs. How is this relevant to India and how can we address the NPA issue more effectively?

For now, capital controls and the paying down of foreign currency loans imply that there are few channels through which a foreign-induced debt sell-off could trigger a collapse in asset prices. Despite concerns in 2016 over capital outflow, China’s foreign exchange reserves have stabilised.

But there is a long-term cost. China is now more vulnerable to capital outflow. Errors and omissions on its national accounts remain large, suggesting persistent unrecorded capital outflows. This loss of capital should act as a salutary reminder to those who believe that China can take the lead on globalisation or provide the investment or currency business to fuel things like a post-Brexit economy.

The Chinese government’s focus on debt management will mean tighter controls on speculative international investments. It will also provide a stern test of China’s centrally planned financial system for the foreseeable future.

Global Significance of Chinese investments

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Hydropower Financing in India (Working Draft)

India is the seventh largest hydroelectric power generator in the world with a capacity approximating 45 GW comprising 13.5% of its total power generational capacity.1 Add to that a capacity of 4.4 GW of smaller hydroelectric power units, the total installed and generational capacity is furthered by 1.3%. The hydroelectric power potential is almost double of what is installed at the moment and stands at 84 GW at 60% of the load factor.2

The history of hydroelectric power generation in the country dates back to more than a century, when the British engineered the Sidrapong-1 in Darjeeling in West Bengal in 1897, which is still under operation. What really drives the efficiency of hydropower technology is design-oriented, but the advantages of longevity and cost of generation face compromises via energy mix, cases where India is well positioned to offset the advantages with reliance on fossil fuels. This has been witnessed from the decade of the 1960s, when hydropower accounted for close to 65% of total utility till the present times, where the proportion has fallen to 13.5%, thanks largely due to offsets created by thermal power. Although, the plummeting slide has been arrested of late due to environmental, social, economic and political factors, the other major reason for the reduction in hydropower portfolio has been attributed to consistently non-attainability of energy installation and generation targets.

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The Government of India has taken many policy initiatives for sustainable hydropower development. In 2008, the Government came out with a hydro policy3 with an objective to achieve the implementation of these projects. Thereafter, the Centre and the states initiated hydropower projects through Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) to attract investors for the development of water resources in an environmentally-friendly manner and generate revenue while ensuring project viability. Despite the mechanism of PPP, many of these projects have had to struggle due to rehabilitation and resettlement concerns, problems associated with land acquisition, clearance and approval procedures, capability of developers, to name a few. These factors have indeed given the projects a troubled track record, but what is concerning are inherent risks associated with the hydro sector that makes investors averse to entering the fray. Inherent risks include geological surprises, calamities, environmental and forest-related concerns, and commercial risks, the last of which include high capital costs, and long payback period resulting from long gestation period culminating in a deterrence for the entry by the private players. Furthermore, hydropower projects are capital-intensive and thus financing them for long periods become a challenge. But, textbook project financing still continues to place private players as the fulcrum of financing hydro as well as renewables for the simple reason that these players seek commensurate returns with respect to risks involved in the sector. For these risks to effectuate into implementation, it is the onus of the Government to remove impediments along the way by either restoring investor faith in the sector or by creating an enabling environment.

The Financial Ecosystem

This section gives an overview of what financial players are involved in the hydropower sector.

The Indian hydropower financial sector could be zeroed in National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) to begin with. NHPC, though a centrally-owned institution is not a typical financial intermediary, in that, it invests the funds that it raises directly. With an investment base of Rs. 3,87,180 million, the authorized share of this Mini Ratna Category-1 Government of India Enterprise is close to Rs. 1,50,000 million, which is exclusively held by the Government. Though, the mandate might seem to be wide-ranging, the portfolio of NHPC is actually quite modest, and the only noticeable expansion is the inclusion of development of wood and tidal power. NHPC pays only a nominal dividend on the equity capital which the Government holds, and receives a considerable grant support from the Ministry of Power. The main income is through sale of electricity and consultancy services, where the main clientele happens to be state electricity boards. NHPC has to put up 30% of the cost of every project which it develops s share capital. as it cannot develop this equity from the limited revenues of its own projects, the government needs to regularly increase its share capital. The other 70% of the cost is financed through debt. during the initial period of NHPC’s existence, this debt was provided by the Government. However, since the decade of the 1980s, NHPC started raising debts through commercial loans and bonds, both as private placements and public issues. The international source of funds for NHPC is through export credit agencies, and not through the multilateral development banks like the World Bank, or the Asian Development Bank.4

The other main agency involved in financing power is Power Finance Corporation, which unlike NHPC is a financial intermediary. The major part of PFC’s funds are raised through rupee-denominated bonds. Bonds issued by PFC enjoy the highest ratings in Indian and international markets and are on par with India’s sovereign rating. It borrows short-term and long-term from various banks and other financial institutions in addition to raising external commercial borrowings through private placement in the US market. PFC is the primary institution of the government of India for financing generation, transmission and distribution projects of the state electricity boards. Hydro projects up to 25 MW are financed by the Rural Electrification Corporation. Like the NHPC, PFC also provides consultancy services to its clientele. Like the international financial institutions, PFC has an attached conditionality clause to its loans, where the borrowers need to carry out Operational Financial Action Plans (OFAPs) in order to avail loans. The divide is clear between states that have undertaken power restructuring reforms getting loans at lower rates, while the states that have failed to undertake any such reforms have eventually lost out on PFC loans. The Government of India supports PFC’s resource mobilization in that PFC is attributed a large share of tax-free bonds on the Indian capital market. Rupee-bonds, loans from the Government and loans from Indian banks and other financial institutions form the domestic sources, while multilateral and bilateral agencies form the major sources of funds from international sources.5

Other major financial players happen to be Industrial Credit and Investment Corporation of India (ICICI), which extends rupee and foreign currency loans by raising capital internally and externally through concessional bonds6 from the Reserve Bank of India, or from syndicated loans as sourced from foreign commercial institutions, and bilateral credit lines from JBIC, KfW DFID; Industrial Development Bank of India (IDBI) extending loans and other assistance in rupees and foreign currencies by raising capital on both the domestic as well as international markets; and Infrastructure Development Finance Corporation (IDFC), which came into existence in 1997 with the aim to provide additional financing for private infrastructure projects. With Vishnuprayag in Uttarakhand and Srinagar in Uttar Pradesh, IDFC made forays into the hydroelectric sector sourcing its funds from bonds sold in the Indian capital market along with its share capital. IDFC, which has signed on to equatorial principles is probably India’s only financial institution to have any environmental policy. It has been quite disciplinarian in refusing loans to questionable projects, and thus has next to no non-performing assets in its portfolio.

Speaking of non-performing assets, the largest commercial bank in India, state Bank of India is facing quite a quagmire. Engaged in long-term project finance in the infrastructure sector, the bank is ignominious with the largest share of non-performing assets. The State Bank of India has played an advisory role in the possible merger of NHPC and National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC), and in assessing the escrow capacities of state electricity boards for independent power producers (IPPs). As part of long-term infrastructure financing, the bank has ventured into hydropower directly, as well as extending funds for financial institutions and operators in the power sector. The major source of funding for the State Bank of India are its retail deposits, while bonds make up for long-term lending. Other sources include mobilizing foreign currency funds through international branch network. Its strong international position enables it to extend foreign currency loans directly from its foreign deposits, and to arrange international loan syndications. For example, the Bank provided loans to Maheshwar Hydro Electric Project through its Frankfurt branch.7

Hydropower lending is not just confined to commercial banks and development financial institutions, but even non-banking financial institutions. The leader in this category happens to be Life Insurance Corporation of India, or LIC in short. LIC has taken up bonds from and extended loans to state electricity boards and centrally-owned institutions like NTPC, NHPC, PFC, and the Power Grid Corporation. The issue of non-performing assets has plagued LIC, and the insurance company is almost on par with the State Bank of India with its distressed assets. Other non-banking financial companies like the General Insurance Corporation of India (GIC) and Unit Trust of India (UTI) are fast picking up their stakes in the power sector, and the reason for their lagging in comparison to LIC is because their funds do not have the same extended maturity as the funds of life insurer.

Since most of these institutions are Government owned, the role of private sector participation isn’t very much evident, but this should not be taken to mean that private sector involvement is compromised by the involvement of these public institutions. On the contrary, private-sector involvement is considered to be a catalyst for infrastructural development, though there are differing opinions about their role, or even if at all they should be invited. Notwithstanding the rationale behind their involvement, it is obligated we look at what promoted their invitation to the electricity sector in general and to hydropower in particular.

In 1991, the Government of India opened the hydropower development in the country to private participation and allowed 16 per cent return on equity (ROE)8 in 1992. The doors to private participation were further greased by the Electricity Act 20039, whose main objective was to promote competition for consumers to have the best possible price and quality of supply. The model to be adapted was similar to the World Bank model that was implemented in Odisha (then called Orissa) and thereafter picked up by other states. Called the “Single Buyer Mode”, the Act mandated that state electricity boards undertake unbundling of generation, transmission and distribution. The principal point in order to enhance generation, licensing had to be done away with completely excepting the need for techno-economic clearance for hydro projects. The Act was aimed at providing an investor friendly environment for potential developers in the power sector by removing administrative hurdles in the development of power projects by providing impetus to distribution reforms in India. Provisions like delicensing of thermal generation, open access and multiple licensing, and removal of surcharge for captive generation paved the basis for a competitive environment through private participation.

In 2008, Government came out with a policy called Power to All by 2012. Called the Hydro policy 2008, it encouraged private participation by giving incentives for accelerating the development of hydropower development in the country. Having failed in achieving its target of power to all by 2012, certain impeding factors like long gestation period, and capital intensive nature of the projects were held culpable. Private-sector implementation was augmented by the rise of Public Private Partnerships (PPPs), which are projects based on a contract or a concession agreement, between a government or statutory entity on the one side and a private sector company on the other side, for delivering an infrastructure service on payment of user charges. That PPP has been a policy game changer could be adduced from the fact that the Government is laying emphasis on it in order to resolve budgetary constraints, faster implementation of projects, reduced whole life costs, better risk allocation, improved quality of services, transfer of technology and project stability.10 though, how much of it is achieved and what are the likely hurdles in this model of development are subsequently discussed.

Private Engineering: Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) and Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs)

India, undoubtedly has vast potential for renewables, but the execution is far from encouraging. One serious reason attributable to this has been the presence of strong coal-lobby in the country. Apart from this, energy economics plays its part, in that, any investment in hydropower development is decided by the cost of debt and the interest rate on capital. It is here that many of the private players who are majorly equity investors maintain focus on capital rates rather than on equity returns. Even if the operating portfolio of private investors is much larger thus facilitating easy accessibility to cheaper debt, unless the focus is on projects, which are profitable with adequate cash flow, renewable energy and infrastructure development in India would continue to face hurdles. For example, if a project is invested into with a debt-to-equity ratio of 70:30, with a typical interest rate of 14% and a repayment period of 8 years, an approximate 22% of the total project cost in the first year is outflow to service debt. It is well nigh difficult for projects to generate this kind of cash in the first year, simply owing to the fact that revenue assessment is not very critical. Bouncing off this critical gap are challenges that projects are more often than not over-advertised with under-estimation of revenue project costs and over-estimations of energy production potential leading to inconsistency in meeting the standard benchmark for haircuts. This is in close affinity with valuation expectations by developers where missing the woods for the trees is a high commonality due precisely to inadequate diligent processes.

But, does that mean this sector is riddled with detriments that cannot challenged off? It would be too far fetched to conclude this. Instead if the key issues like stringent adherence to budgets and timelines, reliable cash flow and accurate project valuations are held on to, these over-the-board-sounding-idealistic situations planned for contingencies, then most of the risks associated with financing and eventual implementation could be offset.

One of the two key instruments of private engineering happens to be Public Private Partnership (PPP). Public Private Partnerships are contractual arrangements between a public agency and a privately owned service provider. They are used to finance and operate projects that are considered important or desirable to the general public. Private agencies are incorporated because it has become increasingly apparent to both governments and donors that private enterprises are more cost-efficient and effective at delivering valuable products and services. The other instrument happens to be a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV), which function as subsidiary entities for larger parent organizations and are typically used to finance new operations at favorable terms. The SPV can raise capital without carrying the debt or other liabilities of the parent organization even though the subsidiary is often operated by the same individuals and serves purposes that benefit the parent organization. SPVs are first and foremost an off-balance-sheet capital tool. This means that companies can change their overall asset/liabilities framework without having it show up in their primary financial statements. Many private partners in a PPP demand an SPV as part of the arrangement. This is especially true for very capital-intensive endeavors, such as an infrastructure project. The private company wants to limit its exposure to liabilities, so an SPV is created to absorb some of the risks. There isn’t a uniform operational role or legal design for the use of SPVs in a PPP; the particulars vary depending on the agreements of the actors and stakeholders in the project. However, every SPV needs to be created in accordance with the proper legal and accountancy rules in the jurisdiction. Most public projects rely on support from commercial banks or other financial institutions. Almost always, the SPV represents the financing wing and is used to attract funds from other lenders and investors. This protects the parent company and all financing parties from immediate counter-party risk. In the case of non-recourse financing, the lender’s only valid claims are limited to project assets in the case of default or non-completion. In turn, the SPV is not directly exposed to balance sheet issues with the parent or government agency. The government agency is often able to keep project debt and liabilities off its own balance sheet. This leaves more fiscal space for other public obligations. This can be especially important for governments that issue bonds because more fiscal space equates to higher bond credit ratings.11

Although SPVs and PPPs have come under tremendous criticism, which we would look into shortly, an example to show why even in the first place are these instruments required would help ease matters a bit. Consider a $1 billion collection of risky loan, obligations of borrowers who have promised to repay their loans at some point in future. Let us imagine them sitting on the balance sheet of some bank XYZ, but they equally well could be securities available on the market that the Bank’s traders want to purchase and repackage for a profit. No one knows whether the borrowers will repay, so a price is put on this uncertainty by the market, where thousands of investors mull over the choice of betting on these risky loans and the certainty of risk-free government bonds. To make them indifferent to the uncertainty these loans carry, potential investors require a bribe in the form of 20% discount at face value. If none of the loans default, investors stand a chance to earn a 25% return. A good deal for investors, but a bad one for the Bank, which does not want to sell the loans for a 20% discount and thereby report a loss.

Now imagine that instead of selling the loans at their market price of $800 million, the Bank sells them to an SPV that pays a face value of $1 billion. Their 20% loss just disappeared. Ain’t this a miracle? But, how? The SPV has to raise $1 billion in order to buy the loans from the Bank. Lenders in SPV will only want to put $800 million against such risky collateral. The shortfall of $200 million will have to be made up somehow. The Bank enters here under a different garb. It puts in $200 million as an equity investment so that the SPV has enough money now to buy the $1 billion of loans.

However, there is a catch here. Lenders no longer expect to receive $1 billion, or a 25% return in compensation for putting up the $800 million. SPV’s payout structure guarantees that the $200 million difference between face value and market value will be absorbed by the Bank, implying treating $800 million investment as virtually risk-free. Even though the Bank has to plough $200 million back into the SPV as a kind of hostage against the loans going bad, from Bank’s perspective, this might be better than selling the loans at an outright $200 million loss. This deal reconciles two opposing views, the first one being the market suspicion that those Bank assets are somehow toxic, and secondly the Bank’s faith that its loans will eventually pay something close to their face value. So, SPVs become a joint creation of equity owners and lenders, purely for the purpose of buying and owning assets, where the lenders advance cash to the SPV in return for bonds and IOUs, while equity holders are anointed managers to look after those assets. Assets, when parked safely within the SPV cannot be redeployed as collateral even in the midst of irresponsible buying spree.

So, if an SPV is such a robust engineering tool, why does it have to face up to criticisms? The answer to this quandary lies in architecture, the architectural setup of SPVs drawing on the Indian context. SPVs are invested with responsibilities to plan, appraise, approve, releasing funds, implement, and evaluate development projects within the ambit of financing renewable projects, including hydropower. According to the Union Government, every SPV will be headed by a full-time CEO, and will have nomination from the central and state government in addition to members from the elected Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) on its Board. Who the CEO isn’t clearly defined, but if speculation is to be believed in concomitance with PPP, these might be from the corporate world. Another justification lending credence to this possibility is the proclivity of the Government to go in for Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs). The states and ULBs would ensure that a substantial and a dedicated revenue stream is made available to the SPV. Once this is accomplished, the SPV would have to become self-sustainable by inculcating practices of its own credit worthiness, which would be realized by its mechanisms of raising resources from the market. It needs to re-emphasized here that the role of the Union Government as far as allocation is concerned is in the form of a tied grant through creating infrastructure for the larger benefit of the people. This role, though lacks clarity, unless juxtaposed with the agenda that the Central Government has set out to achieve, which is through PPPs, Joint Ventures (JVs) subsidiaries and turnkey contracts.

If one were to look at the architecture of SPV holdings, things get a bit muddled in that not only is the SPV a limited company registered under the Companies Act 201312, the promotion of SPV would lie chiefly with the state/union territory and elected ULB on a 50:50 equity holding. The state/UT and ULB have full onus to call upon private players as part of the equity, but with the stringent condition that the share of state/UT and ULB would always remain equal and upon addition be in majority of 50%.13 So, with permutations and combinations, it is deduced that the maximum share a private player can have will be 48% with the state/UT and ULB having 26% each. Initially, to ensure a minimum capital base for the SPV, the paid up capital of the SPV should be with an option to increase it to the full amount of the first installment provided by the Government of India. This paragraph commenced saying the finances are muddled, but on the contrary this arrangement looks pretty logical, right? There is more than meets the eye here, since a major component is the equity shareholding, and from here on things begin to get complex. This is also the stage where SPV gets down to fulfilling its responsibilities and where the role of elected representatives of the people, either at the state/UT level or at the ULB level appears to get hazy. Why is this so? The Board of the SPV, despite having these elected representatives has in no certain ways any clarity on the decisions of those represented making a strong mark when the SPV gets to apply its responsibilities. SPVs, now armed with finances can take on board consultative expertise from the market, thus taking on the role befitting their installation in the first place, i.e. going along the privatization of services in tune with the market-oriented neoliberal policies in new clothes sewn with tax exemptions, duties and stringent labour laws in bringing forth the most dangerous aspect, viz. privatized governance.

In India, private engineering is plugged in with Government initiatives through a host of measures by the latter in creating fecund grounds furthering efficiency and faster execution. Responsibilities are no more split between Ministry of Power, Ministry of Coal and Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, for hitherto it was difficult managing projects under departments working in silos at the central level. Ever since the present ruling dispensation of National Democratic Alliance (NDA) stressed on making hydropower a cardinal component in the energy mix for the country, the Government of India has undertaken a number of initiatives in the recent past, supported by various policy-level changes to promote hydropower development and facilitate investment in the sector. As a part of these initiatives, the government has increased financial allocation, along with other non-financial support, and is also in the process of establishing a dedicated hydropower development fund14 to improve the investment attractiveness of the sector. Other than that, the government could use the clean energy fund to provide loans to hydro projects at a lower rate of interest. On a smaller scale, the Indian Renewable energy Development Agency (IREDA), National Clan Energy Fund (NCEF) has already launched a refinancing scheme by providing loans at 2% for the revival of operational small hydro-projects (SHP) and biomass projects which have been affected by low tariffs, low plant load factor (PLF) levels, or force majeure conditions.15 Government’s promise to offer long-term finance to infrastructure projects, and meet the country’s target of generating 15% of its energy from renewable sources affirms its commitment to providing financial and administrative assistance to hydropower generation, the economic viability of which would be determined by investors and developers. It needs to be noted that as of now, not all of hydropower is considered to be renewable, but the government is mulling over the fact that all of hydropower needs to be categorized as such. At present, hydropower projects below 25 MW are considered renewables, and comes under the purview of the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy. Large hydro is with the Ministry of Power, as is National Hydro Power Corporation (NHPC). If all of hydropower is categorized under renewable energy, it would facilitate the Government to meet its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) targets, as committed in the Paris Climate-Change summit 2016. The Indian government had committed to 40% of its total energy generation from renewable sources. Solar and wind power cumulatively contribute 15% to the energy mix. Adding hydro would take the total close to 30%. The current generation capacity of hydro is 44,189 MW out of the total installed capacity of 314,000 MW. According to Piyush Goyal, Former Minister for Power, Coal, Mines and Renewable Energy, getting to consider all of hydropower as renewable would ensure coverage under RPO16 and qualify for dispatch priority. Recognising hydropower as renewable might, however, not mean that its purchase will be included in the renewable purchase obligation (RPO) of distribution companies. Currently, the government guidelines for the long-term RPO trajectory keep hydropower out of the calculation of total energy consumption, and thus for any change to be effectuated, the Government would have to discuss the details with the stakeholders, including segment regulators. 17 18

 

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Considering an energy elasticity of 0.819, India is projected to require around 7% annual growth in electricity supply to sustain a GDP growth of around 8.5% p.a. over the next few years. This requires tapping all potential sources to address the deficit and meet the demand growth for accelerating economic development while taking into account considerations of long-term sustainability, environmental and social aspects. Though reservoir-based hydropower projects have come under criticism due to CO2 and methane emissions beyond acceptable limits, most hydro-rich countries have followed an integrated full life-cycle approach for the assessment of the benefits and impacts to ensure sustainability20. India is no different in this regard.

Financing Power: Generic Trends

This section focuses on the generic trends that involve financing power in the country, and many of the trends overlap across sectors, in that these are true for thermal, hydro and renewable energy generation. Moreover, the section, though slightly technical in nature, is interspersed with what may eventually count as accommodating structure for procurement of funds and thus departs from the norm in that it looks to policy and regulatory mechanisms in place and those that are aspirational or in the form of recommendations. Moreover, the section also delves into what is probably the hardest challenge facing the Indian Banking sector at the moment, viz. Non-Performing Assets (NPAs). There are documents and reports by the score that highlight how infrastructure development, including the power sector in India is riddled with NPAs.21 As a caveat, one maybe at a loss in linking this section with hydropower in particular due to its genericity, but one needs to comprehend the financial complexities from policy and regulatory points of view in order to appreciate the fuller magnitude of financing hydropower in particular and power sector in general.

Banks and Infrastructure Finance Companies (IFCs) are the predominant sources of financing of power sector in India. Balance sheet size of many Indian banks and IFCs are small vis-à-vis many global banks. Credit exposure limits of banks and IFCs towards power sector exposure is close to being breached. Any future exposure seems to be severely constrained by balance sheet size, their incremental credit growth and lack of incentives to lend to power sector. The desirability and sustainability of sectoral exposure norms of the banks in the future may be examined in view of the massive exposure of the banks and projected fund requirements for the power sector. Further, any downgrade in the credit rating of power sector borrowers would adversely impact the ability of the major Non Banking Financial Companies (NBFCs) viz. Power Finance Corporation (PFC) and National Hydro Power Corporation (NHPC) to raise large quantum of funds at a competitive rate from domestic as well as international capital markets. In such a scenario, the sources of funds available for power sector projects are expected to be further constrained.

The capital intensive nature of power projects requires raising debt for longer tenure (more than 15 years) which can be supported by life of the Power Project (around 25 years). However, there is wide disparity between the maturity profiles of assets and liabilities of banks exposing them to serious Asset Liability Maturity mismatch (ALM). Accordingly, the longest term of debt available from any bank or financial institution is for 15 years (door-to-door) which could create mismatch in cash flow of the Power project and may affect the debt servicing. Options like refinancing are explored to make funds available for the power project for a long tenor. Though maturity profiles of funds from insurance sector and pension funds are more suited to long gestation power projects, only a minuscule portion is deployed in power sector. At this stage, it becomes appropriate to talk of how and why pension funds are not really the funds to run after when it comes to financing Hydropower in the country. That these funds are not the de facto choice would be statement made in a hurry, for the government could in time switch financing instrumental gears to cater to investments in hydropower, provided these are amalgamated with Green bonds.  Internationally, the Green bonds base is up-north of $82 billion, whereas in India, the Green bonds are minuscule, but all slated for an exponential growth. Banks like Yes Bank and World Bank have launched green bonds. Green Bonds as a debt instrument by an entity raising funds ‘earmarked’ for use towards financing ‘green’ projects, assets, and business activities with environmental benefits. It attracts new class investor base – insurance funds, pension funds, sovereign wealth funds apart from the traditional investors. It helps in enhancing an issuer’s reputation illustrates green credentials of the issuer and demonstrates commitment towards the development and sustainability of the environment. The caution is that green bonds come with currency risk. However, if one raises green masala bonds, one will not have the risk of forex. To have the need for appropriating fiscal incentives in order to explore the ways to channelize savings, new debt instruments and sources of funds viz. Infrastructure Debt Fund, Clean Energy Funds etc. are identified for the purpose of infrastructure financing.

When it comes to cost of funds, cost of Rupee funding is high as compared to foreign currency funding due to currency fluctuations in the form of appreciation and depreciation. In a competitive bidding scenario, higher cost of borrowing could adversely affect the profitability and debt servicing of loan. External Commercial Borrowings (ECBs) for power projects is not well suited due to issues relating to tenor, hedging costs, exposure to foreign exchange risks etc. Project financing by multilateral agencies (World Bank, Asian Development Bank) has been low due to various issues.22 While bond offerings are a lower cost option to raise funds vis-à-vis syndicated loans, corporate bond market for project financing is virtually absent in India. Innumerable committees have opined on the reasons for the relative underdevelopment of India’s corporate bond market. However, despite several recommendations being implemented, there is still anaemic activity in existing corporate bonds, and anaemic issuance of new corporate bonds in relative terms. In addition, it appears that debt to equity ratios of Indian corporates have been falling steadily since the late 1990s, potentially a symptom of relative reductions in activity in the corporate debt market. Theoretically the presence of corporate bonds would provide an important alternative source of funding for corporations, which will enable them to optimize capital structure in an environment of friction. Such a market should enable additional cash to fund operations or long-term expansion plans without diluting corporate control. The government should also welcome the development of the corporate bond market because it would spur corporate activity and thus economic growth. Finally, investors such as pension funds and insurance companies should welcome corporate bonds as an additional set of instruments in which to invest, providing, in theory, a better overall risk to reward trade-off since there would be more opportunities for diversification. But, despite all these positives, the corporate bond market in the country is anemic. One important fact might hold the clue to explaining the lack of growth of this market. That is the huge pile of corporate debt that is currently being held in the form of loans, especially by state-owned banks. This massive inventory of loans generates significant incentives for three parties – banks, corporations and the government – to delay or inhibit the development of a significant corporate bond market. It goes without saying that large corporations with significant levels of unsustainable debt have no incentive to issue increased levels of debt, and indeed, have significant incentive to ensure the creation and perpetuation of information asymmetries that will inhibit liquidity in the market for their debt. So, the problem is not merely a problem of demand – from banks, but, also extends to debt supply. From the government’s point of view, there is a trade-off. In the short run, enabling a vibrant corporate bond market will result in significant losses to the banking sector, especially for nationalized banks, which are significantly exposed to bad corporate loans. This is because better price discovery will reveal the full extent of the problem of non-performing assets resulting from exposure to over-leveraged corporates. It is also the case that there may be more corporate failures if the full scale of the bad loans problem is revealed to the world. But, it must also be remarked that the credit rating of the power projects being set up under Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) structure is generally lower than investment criterion of bond investors and thus there is a need for credit enhancement products.

Creation of specialized long-term debt funds to cater to the needs of the infrastructure sector; a regulatory and tax environment that is suitable for attracting investments is the key for channelizing long-term funds into infrastructure development. Reserve Bank of India (RBI) may look into the feasibility of not treating investments by banks in such close-ended debt funds as capital market exposure. Insurance and Regulatory Development Authority of India (IRDA) may consider including investment in Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) registered debt funds as approved investments for insurance companies. Insurance Companies, Financial Institutions are encouraged/provided incentives to invest in longer dated securities to evolve an optimal debt structure to minimize the cost of debt servicing. This would ensure lowest tariff structure and maximum financial viability. Option of a moratorium for an initial 2 to 5 years may also reduce tariff structure during the initial years. One of the most serious contenders for acquiring funds and one that has been extensively experimented with is the Viability Gap Funding (VGF). The power projects that are listed under in generation or transmission and distribution schemes in remote areas like North-eastern region, J&K etc and other difficult terrains need financial support in the form of a viability gap for the high initial cost of power which is difficult to be absorbed in the initial period of operation. A scheme may be implemented in the remote areas as a viability gap fund23 either in the form of subsidy or on the lines of hydropower development fund, a loan which finances the deferred component of the power tariff of the first five years and recovers its money during 11th to 15th year of the operation may be introduced. Any extra financing cost incurred on such viability gap financing should also be permitted as a pass through in the tariff by regulators.

Green Bonds

Shifting terrain here, it is obligatory to talk of green bonds and how they could be the next ‘big’ thing in financing. Green bonds are like other bonds with the key difference being the former are specifically used for ‘green’ projects that are environmentally friendly. These bonds could help reduce the cost of capital if there are open door policies aimed towards attracting foreign investment, and especially so, when Foreign Direct Investment policies in India are getting more and more market friendly. The history of ‘green’ bonds could be dated back to 2007, when the European Investment Bank and the World Bank launched these bonds. Subsequently, 2013 witnessed corporation participation leading to its overall growth. In India, Yes Bank became the first bank to issue these bonds worth Rs. 1000 crore in 2015.

So, what of Sebi24 and any of rules and regulations mandating additional information about these bonds? For designating an issue of a corporation bond as a ‘green’ bond, an issue apart from complying with the issue and listing of debt securities regulations, the corporation would have to disclose additional information in the offer document such as use of proceeds. Sebi’s board had considered and approval a proposal for issuance and listing of green bonds way back in January 2016 to help meet the huge financing requirements worth USD 2.5 trillion for climate change actions in India by 2030. It is to be noted that ‘green’ bonds can be key to help meet an ambitious target India has of building 175 gigawatt of renewable energy capacity by 2022, which will require a massive estimated funding of $200 billion. Hydropower has a significant role to play in achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement.25 Supporting the growth of the green bonds market is an important step towards aligning emission reduction targets with appropriate market signals and incentives.26 One example of Green bonds being used to finance hydropower in India is the Rampur Hydropower Project, across River Satluj in Simla and Kullu districts of Himachal Pradesh. This 412 MW installed capacity project has been financed on a 70:30 debt equity ratio basis, and is backed by a US$ 400 million by the World Bank.27

Shifting terrain once more, let us now focus on policy-wide measures that feed into renewables.

Policy-wide Measures for Take-out Financing

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has stipulated guidelines for Take-out Financing through External Commercial Borrowings (ECB) Policy.28 The guidelines stipulate that the corporate developing the infrastructure project including Power project should have a tripartite agreement with domestic banks and overseas recognized lenders for either a conditional or unconditional take-out of the loan within three years of the scheduled Commercial Operation Date (COD). The scheduled date of occurrence of the take-out should be clearly mentioned in the agreement. However, it is felt that the market conditions cannot exactly be anticipated at the time of signing of document and any adverse movement in ECB markets could nullify the interest rate benefit that could have accrued to the project. Hence, it is suggested that tripartite agreement be executed closer to project COD and instead of scheduled date of occurrence of the take-out event, a window of 6 or 12 months could be mentioned within which the take-out event should occur.

Further, the guidelines stipulate that the loan should have a minimum average maturity period of seven years. However, an ECB of average maturity period of seven years would entail a repayment profile involving door-to-door tenors29 of eight to ten years with back-ended repayments. It is likely that ECB with such a repayment profile may not be available in the financial markets. Further, the costs involved in hedging foreign currency risks associated with such a repayment profile could be prohibitively high. Hence it is suggested that the minimum average maturity period stipulated should be aligned to maturity profiles of ECB above USD 20 million and up to USD 500 million i.e. minimum average maturity of five years as stipulated in RBI Master Circular No.9 /2011-12 dated July 01, 2011.30 RBI exposure norms applicable to IFCs allow separate exposure ceilings for lending and investment. Further, there is also a consolidated cap for both lending & investment taken together. In project funding, the IFCs are mainly funding the debt portion and funding of equity is very nominal.31 Therefore, the consolidated ceiling as per RBI norms may be allowed as overall exposure limit with a sub-limit for investment instead of having separate sub-limits for lending and investment. This will leverage the utilization of un-utilized exposures against investment. It is well justified since lending is less risky as compared to equity investment. This will provide additional lending exposure of 5% of owned funds in case of a single entity and 10% of owned funds in case of single group of companies, as per existing RBI norms. RBI Exposure ceilings for IFCs are linked to ‘owned funds’ while RBI exposure norms as applicable to Banks & FIs (Financial Institutions, but also Financial Intermediaries) allow exposure linkage with the total regulatory capital i.e. ‘capital funds’ (Tier I & Tier II capital). Exposure ceilings for IFCs may also be linked to capital funds on the lines of RBI norms applicable to Banks. It will enable to use the Tier II capitals like Reserves for bad and doubtful debt created under Income Tax Act, 196132, for exposures.

RBI norms provide for 100% provisioning of unsecured portion in case of loan becoming ‘doubtful’ asset. Sizable loans of Government IFCs like PFC and NHPC are guaranteed by State Governments and not by charge on assets. On such loans, 100% provisioning in first year of becoming doubtful would be very harsh and can have serious implication on the credit rating of IFC. Therefore, for the purpose of provisioning, the loans with State/Central Government guarantee or with undertaking from State Government for deduction from Central Plan Allocation or Direct loan to Government Department may be treated as secured. As per RBI norms, the provisioning for Non-Performing Assets (NPAs) is required to be made borrower-wise and not loan-wise if there is more than one loan facility to one borrower. Since Government owned IFC’s exposure to a single State sector borrower is quite high, it would not be feasible to provide for NPA on the total loans of the borrowers in case of default in respect of one loan. Further, the State/Central sector borrowers in power sector are limited in numbers and have multi-location and multiple projects. Accordingly, default in any loan in respect of one of its project does not reflect on the repaying capacity of the State/Central sector borrowers. A single loan default may trigger huge provisioning for all other good loans of that borrower. This may distort the profitability position. Therefore, provisioning for NPAs in case of State/Central sector borrowers may be made loan-wise. In case of consortium financing, if separate asset classification norms are followed by IFCs as compared to other consortium lenders which are generally banking institutions; the asset classification for the same project loan could differ amongst the consortium lenders leading to issues for further disbursement etc.

Prudential Norms relating to requirement of capital adequacy are not applicable to Government owned IFCs. However, on the other side, it has been prescribed as an eligibility requirement for an Infrastructure Finance Company (IFC) being 15% (with minimum 10% of Tier I capital). Accordingly, Government owned IFCs are also required to maintain the prescribed Capital Adequacy Ratio.33 Considering the better comfort available in case of Government owned IFCs, it is felt that RBI may consider stipulating relaxed CAR requirement for Government owned IFCs. It will help such Government owned IFCs in better leveraging. RBI prudential norms applicable to IFCs require 100% risk weight for lending to all types of borrowers. However, it is felt that risk weight should be linked to credit rating of the borrowers. On this premise, a 20% risk weight may be assigned for IFC’s lending to AAA rated companies. Similarly, in case of loans secured by the Government guarantee and direct lending to Government, the IFCs may also assign risk weight in line with the norms applicable to banks. Accordingly, Central Government and State Government guaranteed claims of the IFC’s may attract ‘zero’ and 20% risk weight respectively. Further their direct loan/credit/overdraft exposure to the State Governments, claims on central government will attract ‘zero’ risk weight.

As per extant ECB Policy, the IFCs are permitted to avail of ECBs (including outstanding ECBs) up to 50% of their owned funds under the automatic route, subject to their compliance with prudential guidelines. This limit is subject to other aspects of ECB Policy including USD 500 million limit per company per financial year. These limits/ceilings are presently applicable to all IFCs whether in State/Central or Private Sector. Government owned IFCs are mainly catering to the funding needs of a single sector, like in Power sector where the funding requirements for each of the power project is huge. These Government owned IFCs are already within the ambit of various supervisory regulations, statutory audit, CAG audit, etc. It, is, therefore, felt that the ceiling of USD 500 million may be increased to USD 1 billion per company per financial year for Government owned IFCs. Further, the ceiling for eligibility of ECB may also be increased to 100% of owned funds under automatic route for Government owned IFCs to enable them to raise timely funds at competitive rates from foreign markets. Thus, these measures will ensure Government owned NBFC-IFCs to raise timely funds at competitive rates thereby making low cost funds available for development of the infrastructure in India.

Enabling and Disabling Environment for Hydropower (Conclusion)

Though some bottlenecks remain. With the present power scenario and major policy initiatives to increase renewable capacity (mainly solar and wind), it is becoming difficult to sell hydropower. There is reluctance on the part of distribution utilities to enter into long term Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs). The government should declare all Hydropower Projects, regardless of the capacity, as “Renewables”, particularly, the Run of the River ROR (with or without diurnal pondage) projects. Presently Ministry of Power gives pooled quota of electricity from Central Public Sector Undertakings to various states. Ministry of Power should include Hydropower projects in the pooled quota for enabling faster PPAs. There should be separate Hydropower Purchase Obligation (HPO), too. The other bottleneck remains to be addressed is Tariff. Tariffs from hydropower projects are higher in the initial years as compared to other sources due to lack of incentives like tax concessions, financing cost and construction of projects in remote areas with inadequate infrastructure. Mega Power benefits were terminated in 2012. Major benefits associated with the Mega Power status were custom duty exemption on import of capital equipment and excise duty exemption. Mega Power benefits should be reintroduced. Since taxes constitute 15-25 per cent of project cost, it is still too early to fathom the import of Goods and Services Tax (GST) on the sector to contour its full consequences. Long term funding for hydropower project development is essential and needs to be directed through a policy. Creation of sub sectoral limit for lending to hydropower projects on priority basis by banks is the need of the hour to revive hydropower sector in India. The Banks should be advised to earmark at least 40 per cent of the total lending to power sector dedicated only for hydropower projects. Since Hydro Electric Projects are prone to various risks and uncertainties, the Return on Equity should not be decreased, except in cases of delays on account of developer. Service tax exemption to services used for Hydro Power Projects shall also lead to reduction of tariff. To reduce the weighted average cost of capital for competitive tariff, it is suggested that Debt to Equity ratio should be kept flexible say 80:10:10 with mandatory incurrence of equity portion minimum of 50 per cent before any disbursement. Funding could be 80 per cent Debt and 10 per cent Subordinate Debt. This could, by way of promoting hydropower as a renewable source of energy be considered as a positive for India, but what really has not been accounted for is socio-environmental and economic consequences, which would in many a cases be irreparable. The third crucial aspect that needs to be addressed is financing, or rather hurdles to financing. Due to long construction period of hydro projects, interest on loan plays a very critical role in increasing project cost. Also, during operation period, higher interest on outstanding loan leads to higher yearly tariff. Non-availability of longer tenure loan necessitates higher provision for depreciation so as to generate resources required to meet repayment obligations. Benefits under section 10(23)g of IT Act, 1961 to Hydro Power Projects, which allowed for the exemption of tax on the interest income earned by the Financial Institutions from Infrastructure projects, were withdrawn and is not available with respect to infrastructure projects. As per the current regulations, State Government is to be provided 12 per cent free power as royalty from any Hydro Power Project to be developed in the State. This provision of free power to the State affects the financial viability of the project severely. Due to the very challenging and difficult logistics, cost of the Project in any case is high and provision of high royalty in terms of free power, makes the project even more costlier and tariff becomes almost unsustainable. A review and revision of the financing policies for hydro projects are required with a view to provide longer tenure debt to hydro sector (say 25-30 years). Subsidy on the rate of interest on debt during the construction period of the projects should be introduced to reduce the Interest During Construction (IDC). Softer interest rates should be extended to large Hydro Plants. Tax Holiday under Section 80I (A) of the Income Tax Act, 1956 should be made applicable for 15 years for all Hydro Power Projects including under implementation projects. Hydropower projects are subjected to various types of risks like hydrological risk, power evacuation risk, geological surprises, construction risk, connectivity issues due to remote locations, extreme terrain etc. But after the commissioning of the Hydro-Electricity Plant, the majority of the risks are mitigated. The Financial Institutions, along with consortium lenders should be advised to extend the interest rebate on long term loans post commissioning of the project.

It is not just financing alone that is driven by development banks, but even building policy and regulatory mechanisms that are taken on board for creating an enabling environment to realize the true potential of hydropower leading to a spur in investments. This is mostly done with an emphasis on treating hydropower potential as a solution to long-term energy goals. The private arm of the World Bank, International Finance Corporation (IFC) has classified a new source of finance termed “Infraventures”, also known as the IFC Global Infrastructure Project Development Fund, is a $150 million global infrastructure fund that aims to develop a “bankable” pipeline of public-private partnerships and private projects for infrastructure.  This fund and others are catalyzing the development of big hydropower by decreasing the initial financial barriers to investment and decreasing the financial risks so that the project is attractive to the private sector.  For IFC Infraventures, the IFC then gets an equity stake in return. It is not unreasonable to claim that such approaches are criticized by Civil Society Actors34 citing serious implications for transparency, accountability and governance.

With the mushrooming of new development banks like BRICS Bank, Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank, consideration for financing of hydropower projects has got a fillip in complementing the agenda of the already existing development banks like the World Bank and the Asian development Bank. But, the main funding spigot in the sector has changed course in India. Even though the multilateral development banks and a host of bilateral financing arrangements, be they wrought by EXIMs or bilaterally negotiated, have the necessary influence to bring to realization projects of scales varying from big hydro to run-of-the-river schemes, their actual influx by way of funds has been reduced to a mere chunk compromised by national financial institutions, either banking or non-banking.

The majority of the funds are pumped in by these national institutions, even if their drive is monitored through equity investments by international financial institutions. Critics of the arrangement often point out to such a huge share as leading to stresses on the banking system eventually paving the way for NPAs. Experience has shown that the impacts of hydropower can be devastating, resulting in physical and economic displacement, the disenfranchisement of indigenous people’s rights, and the destruction of fragile ecosystems. Despite the historically significant impacts of hydropower, the information provided to affected communities and to the general public appears to be woefully inadequate.35 As the authors36 seem to vociferously declare that the all too common adverse consequences of hydro projects do not seem sufficient to prompt a modification on development banks’ investment priorities. The narrative that paints hydropower as source of clean and cheap energy continues to drive banks’ priorities while sweeping under the rug the unacceptable price paid by marginalized members of society.

1) Government of India, Ministry of Power, Central Electricity Authority. Power Sector 2017 <http://www.cea.nic.in/reports/monthly/executivesummary/2017/exe_summary-04.pdf>

2) Government of India, Ministry of Power, Central Electricity Authority. Hydro Planning and Investigation Reports. Page last updated: Mon Feb 13 2017 <http://www.cea.nic.in/monthlyhpi.html>

3) Government of India, Ministry of Power. Hydro Power Policy 2008 <http://www.ielrc.org/con- tent/e0820.pdf>

4) Bosshard, P. Power Finance: Financial Institutions In India’s Hydropower Sector. pp 36-38. January 2002. <http://www.sandrp.in/hydropower/Power_Finance.pdf&gt;

5) Bosshard, P. Power Finance: Financial Institutions In India’s Hydropower Sector. pp 43-48. January 2002. <http://www.sandrp.in/hydropower/Power_Finance.pdf&gt;

6) A concession is a selling group’s compensation in a stock or bond underwriting agreement. The amount of compensation is based on the underwriting spread, or the difference between what the public pays for the securities and what the issuing company receives from the sale.

7) Bosshard, P. Power Finance: Financial Institutions In India’s Hydropower Sector. p 66. January 2002. <http://www.sandrp.in/hydropower/Power_Finance.pdf&gt;

8) Return on Equity is a measure of profitability that calculates how many dollars of profit a company generates with each dollar of shareholders’ equity. Also referred to as return on net worth, it is formulaically ROE = (Net Income)/(Shareholders’ Equity).

9) Ministry of Law and Justice, Legislative Department. The Electricity Act, 2003. 2 Jun 2003. <http://www.cercind.gov.in/Act-with-amendment.pdf&gt;

10) Ullah, A. Public Private Partnership in Hydro-Power Development of India: Prospects and Challenges. In Journal of Business Management & Social Sciences Research (JBM&SSR). volume 4, No. 2, February 2015.

11) Investopedia. What role do SPVs / SPEs play in public-private partnerships? Mar 09 2015 <http://www.investopedia.com/ask/answers/030915/what-role-do-spvs-spes-play-publicprivate-partnerships.asp>

12) Government of India, Ministry of Corporate Affairs. The Companies Act, 2013. <http://ebook.mca.gov.in/default.aspx>

13) Government of India, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs. Smart Cities Mission. 18 Jul 2017. <http://smartcities.gov.in/content/innerpage/spvs.php>

14) PricewaterhouseCoopers & ASSOCHAM India. Hydropower @ Crossroads. pp 7 and 14. 2016 <https://www.pwc.in/assets/pdfs/publications/2016/hydropower-at-crossroads-pwc-assocham-report.pdf>

15) Indian Renewable Energy Development Agency Ltd. IREDA-NCEF Refinance Scheme for Scheduled Commercial Banks/FIs for Refinancing of their outstanding loans against Biomass Power & SHP Projects. 31 JUL 2017 <http://www.ireda.gov.in/writereaddata/Revised%20-%20IREDA%20NCEF%20Refinance%20Scheme.pdf>

16) Renewable Purchase Obligation refers to the obligation imposed by law on some entities to either buy electricity generated by specified ‘green’ sources, or buy, in lieu of that, ‘renewable energy certificates (RECs)’ from the market. The ‘obligated entities’ are mostly electricity distribution companies and large consumers of power. RECs are issued to companies that produce green power, who opt not to sell it at a preferable tariff to distribution companies.

17) Jai, S. Uncharted waters for hydropower’s renewable energy status. Business Standard. 24 Mar 2017 <http://www.business-standard.com/article/companies/uncharted-waters-for-hydropower-s-re-status-117032301145_1.html>

18) Small hydro currently enjoys a slew of concessions such as tax benefits and easier environment and water clearance. To promote it as a RE source, the Centre also offers subsidy support of Rs 5 crore per MW and/or Rs 20 crore per project. To replicate these subsidies for a large project would be very heavy on government finances. Also, this move to make large hydro as renewable only benefits the country, not the sector. The sector would have to wait for the new GST (goods and services tax) regime to kick in, to know what concessions are in store for them. The earlier 10-year tax holiday for power projects has ceased to exist. Excise, Customs and like duties would be decided after the GST is notified for the sector. The Government could be looking at removing the whole subsidy mechanism for the sector, like it did in solar and wind power. So, the first target (of its proposed move) is obviously to meet the INDC and the other could be to reform the sector by linking it to market forces. The subsidy in hydro is for loan repayment and that can only happen when a project is operational. Hydro faces operational issues, regulatory hurdles and local issues. These need to be addressed. A speedy approval mechanism would entail growth of the sector.

19) Mohanty, A. & Chaturvedi, D. Relationship between Electricity Energy Consumption and GDP: Evidence from India. In International Journal of Economics and Finance; Vol. 7, No. 2; 2015. pp 186-202.

20) PWC & FICCI. Hydropower in India: Key enablers for a better tomorrow. 2014 <http://www.pwc.in/assets/pdfs/publications/2014/hydropower-in-india-key-enablers-for-better-tomorrow.pdf>

21) A Non-Performing Asset (NPA) is defined as a a credit facility in respect of which the interest and/or installment of Bond finance principal has remained ‘past due’ for a specified period of time. NPA is used by financial institutions that refer to loans that are in jeopardy of default. In the Indian context: You may note that for a bank, the loans given by the bank is considered as its assets. So if the principle or the interest or both the components of a loan is not being serviced to the lender (bank), then it would be considered as a Non-Performing Asset (NPA). Any asset which stops giving returns to its investors for a specified period of time is known as Non-Performing Asset (NPA). Generally, that specified period of time is 90 days in most of the countries and across the various lending institutions. However, it is not a thumb rule and it may vary with the terms and conditions agreed upon by the financial institution and the borrower. Has the hydropower sector been impacted? In March 2017, India Ratings Downgraded Indira Priyadarshini Hydro Power’s Loans to ‘IND D’. The downgrade reflects the instances of delays of up to 90 days in servicing of debt obligations by IPHPPL during the three months ended February 2017, due to tight liquidity position. IPHPPL is sponsored by the Ind Barath group of companies, which is mainly engaged in the power development business. The company is setting up a 4.8MW run-of-the-river hydel power plant on Manuni khad (tributary of Beas) in Kangra District, Himachal Pradesh. The power plant is yet to be commissioned. Bank facilities have low complexity levels which reflect that the relationship between the inherent risk factors and intrinsic return characteristics is straightforward.

22) The transition to private participation in infrastructure has not yet settled; consequently, the financing environment for developing-country infrastructure is not clearly defined. In many developing countries, the agenda of market liberalization, regulatory reform, and the restructuring of state-owned monopoly utilities remains unfinished. Furthermore, given the characteristics of certain infrastructure industries, including the huge sunk costs involved, elements of natural mono- poly, and their political saliency, there remains a strong rationale for state intervention, even in cases where privatization has been completed. Also, investors must factor in ongoing transformations of the global infrastructure industry, such as how to accurately price and gauge demand for new products resulting from rapid technological change. Together with a series of recent financial crises, these developments have taken their toll, presenting a hierarchy of risks at the industry, country, and project levels. Those risks raise the cost of capital and make investors and creditors averse to long-term investments in developing- country infrastructure.

23) According to New Hydropower Policy 2017, which is in the pipeline, there would be provisions with viability gap funding for projects, compulsory hydropower purchase obligations for distribution companies and a set of good practices that states would have to follow. The policy being prepared by the power ministry will have provisions for viability gap funding, which will help in meeting the shortfall in project costs and reducing hydroelectricity tariffs for consumers. Hydropower is expensive and in some cases more than double the cost of power from coal-based thermal plants. Compulsory hydropower purchase from large projects will either be made part of the existing renewable power purchase obligation of distribution companies or a separate requirement, so that its inclusion does not affect the market for other renewable sources of energy like wind, solar or biomass. In February 2015, India’s first proposed hydro-electricity project to be built on a viability gap funding (VGF) basis and PPP mode appears to have fallen flat as the Mizoram government signs an MoU with the North-East Electric Power Corporation (NEEPCO) to take up the planned project in northern Mizoram. The project 210 MW Tuivai HEP was cleared in 2013 to become the country’s first VGF-based HEP in 2013, meaning the Centre was willing to foot up to Rs 750 crores of the total Rs 1,750 crores the project is estimated to cost. The project was envisaged such that it fell under the state sector, meaning Mizoram would have the rights to use as much of power generated for its needs and sell the remaining as it deems fit. But even then, plans fell through towards the end of last year as banks and private developers shied away from going ahead with the project, leaving the state government to look for other alternatives. The Indian Express. India’s first VGF hydro-power project falls through, Mizoram hands it over to NEEPCO. 11 Feb 2015 <http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/indias-first-vgf-hydro-powerproject-falls-through-mizoram-hands-it-over-to-neepco/>

24) Securities and Exchange Board of India. Memorandum to the Board: Disclosure Requirements for Issuance and Listing Green Bonds. <http://www.sebi.gov.in/sebi_data/meetingfiles/1453349548574-a.pdf>

25) International Hydropower Association Communications Team. What will the Paris Agreement mean for hydropower development? Jan 21 2016. <https://www.hydropower.org/blog/what-will-the-paris-agreement-mean-for-hydropower-development>

26) International Hydropower Association. Hydropower Status Report 2017. <https://www.hydropower.org/2017-hydropower-status-report>

27) The World Bank. Rampur Hydropower Project. <http://projects.worldbank.org/P095114/rampur-hydropower-project?lang=en>

28) External Commercial Borrowing (ECB) Policy – Take-out Finance. Jul 22 2010 <http://allindiantaxes.com/rbicir10-11-4.php>

29) Door to Door tenor/maturity is a term that is mostly used in finance sector. It is generally used to indicate the total period within which the total debt borrowed is to be paid, this total period also includes the period of moratorium (that is the period for which payment has been postponed).

30) Reserve Bank of India. RBI/2011-12/ 9, Master Circular on External Commercial Borrowings and Trade Credits. Jul 01 2011 <https://www.rbi.org.in/scripts/BS_ViewMasCirculardetails.aspx?id=6501>

31) Strategic investors, venture capital, private equity are the principal providers of equity funding to RE projects. Private equity funds have dominated the equity investment scene. Majority of the investments are in INR and the funds stay invested in the companies for a period of 5 to 7 years. Typically, the hurdle rates for direct equity investments range between 16 and 20 %, and are dependent on factors, such as the size of the project, the background of sponsor, the technology risk, the stage of maturity, and geographic and policy risks. On a related note, there have been talks of Mezzannine financing. So, what exactly is meant by this, and has India had an instance of such financing? Mezzanine Finance is a form of quasi debt/equity instrument, wherein sector-specific investors or short-term investors park their funds assuring higher returns (typically 15 % more than the debt instruments). This facilitates availability of low cost equity to project promoters. The investment is secured by charging on assets after assigning first charge to the term-loan lenders. Mezzanine Finance is typically associated with debentures offered to the investor with an option to convert them to equity at a later stage. This form of finance offers flexibility to meet both the investor’s and the company’s requirements, and also provides medium term capital without significant ownership dilution. Mezzanine finance is less risky than equity for investors, as it provides fixed interest along with principal repayment and minimum guaranteed returns to investors. It is normally used in situations where the company is generating adequate cash flows to service coupon payments and the promoters are unwilling to dilute their equity stake in the company. The Indian RE market has seen very few mezzanine finance transactions. Few of the noteworthy transactions are – Mytrah Energy raised USD 78.5 million from IDFC Project Equity and USD 19 million from PTC Financial Services. Solar IPP Azure Power raised USD 13.6 million from Germany’s DEG.

32) Government of India, Income Tax Department. Income Tax Act 1961. <http://www.incometaxindia.gov.in/pages/acts/income-tax-act.aspx>

33) Capital Adequacy Ratio is a measure of bank’s capital, and expressed as a percentage of a bank’s risk weighted credit exposures. Also known as capital-to-risk weighted assets ratio (CRAR), it is used to protect depositors and promote the stability and efficiency of financial systems.

34) Romero, M. J. Where is the public in PPPs? Analysing the World Bank’s support for public-private partnerships. BrettonWoods Project. Sep 29 2014 <http://www.brettonwoodsproject.org/2014/09/public-ppps-analysing-world-banks-support-public-private-partnerships/>

35) Medallo, J. & Sampaio, A. Ongoing Trends in Hydropower. Coalition for Human Rights in Development. <http://rightsindevelopment.org/project/trends-the-rise-of-hydropower/>

36) ibid.

Conjuncted: Bank Recapitalization – Some Scattered Thoughts on Efficacies.

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In response to this article by Joe.

Some scattered thoughts could be found here.

With demonetization, banks got a surplus liquidity to the tune of Rs. 4 trillion which was largely responsible for call rates becoming tepid. However, there was no commensurate demand for credit as most corporates with a good credit rating managed to raise funds in the bond market at much lower yields. The result was that banks ended up investing most of this liquidity in government securities resulting in the Statutory Liquidity Ratio (SLR) bond holdings of banks exceeding the minimum requirement by up to 700 basis points. This combination of a surfeit of liquidity and weak credit demand can be used to design a recapitalization bond to address the capital problem. Since the banks are anyways sitting on surplus liquidity and investing in G-Secs, recapitalization bonds can be used to convert the bank liquidity to actually recapitalize the banks. Firstly, the government of India, through the RBI, will issue Recapitalization Bonds. Banks, who are sitting on surplus liquidity, will use their resources to invest in these recapitalization bonds. With the funds raised by the government through the issue of recapitalization bonds, the government will infuse capital into the stressed banks. This way, the surplus liquidity of the banks will be used more effectively and in the process the banks will also be better capitalized and now become capable of expanding their asset books as well as negotiating with stressed clients for haircuts. Recapitalization bonds are nothing new and have been used by the RBI in the past. In fact, the former RBI governor, Dr. Y V Reddy, continues to be one of the major proponents of recapitalization bonds in the current juncture. More so, considering that the capital adequacy ratio of Indian banks could dip as low as 11% by March 2018 if the macroeconomic conditions worsen, the motivation for going in for recap bonds has no logical counters. As I have often said this in many a fora, when banks talk numbers, transparency and accountability the way it is perceived isn’t how it is perceived by them, and moreover this argument gets diluted a bit in the wake of demonetization, which has still been haunted by lack of credit demand. As far as the NPAs are concerned, these were lying dormant and thanks to RBI’s AQR, these would not even have surfaced if let be made decisions about by the banks’ free hands. So, RBI’s intervention was a must to recognize NPAs rather than the political will of merely considering them as stressed assets. The real problem with recap bonds lie in the fact that the earlier such exercise in the 90s has still resulted in bonds maturing, and unless, these bonds are made tradable, these would be confined to further immaturities.

Demonetization – One Year Of A Rudderless Cacophony (A Booklet of Compilation of Blog Posts)

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On the midnight of 8/11/16, in a single pronouncement, the Prime Minister of India made higher denominations of Rs. 500 and Rs. 1000 illegal tender under the pretense of curbing black money, arresting tax evasion, stopping funding of terrorist activities and counterfeiting of currency. Those who had these notes were given a time frame of less than 2 months to deposit them and withdraw new denominations in different slabs of limits set by the RBI. The Indian economy, which is predominantly cash based and the Indian people, a great section of who are financially excluded, existing solely on hard currency, would somehow have to manage through this ‘temporary crisis’ for the greater good of the nation. This was the call of the Prime Minister to undergo ‘temporary hardships’ to root out the ills of the Indian Economy.

And so what happened? The country panicked and people rushed to banks to deposit their cash savings, exchange high denominations and lines formed. Long lines, winding unending lines full of people waiting to deposit and get new notes. People died in those lines, many patients could not get timely medical help, many social functions – marriages and burials got drowned in questions of “why cant you suffer a little for the country, when soldiers are giving their blood in the borders to protect you”. But what about people who never had a bank account? Or those too far away from a branch or ATM to withdraw or exchange? Or those whose earnings were so marginal that they could not spare losing a day’s work waiting in lines? Or women who had painstakingly collected money for emergency over many years? What about those crores of rupees that was saved through co-operative banking system, still far away from the mainstream banking operations – but was safeguarding the money of crores of people in many states? Modi’s solution for those suffering was clearly evident on the morning of the 9th, plastered on almost every major newspaper “abhi ATM nahin, Paytm Karo.”…..

Demonetization – One Year Of A Rudderless Cacophony

 

Bank Recapitalization. Some Scattered Thoughts on Efficacies.

Bank-Recap
If we are still thinking of Demonetization and GST as speed breakers to economy, which entirely isn’t false, the what could one say of Bank Recapitalization? Is this a master stroke of sorts to salvaging sensibility before the present ruling dispensation of BJP is red-faced before 2019 GE? Or, is Bank Recapitalization is all about safeguarding the dismal dip in the growth and especially so when the world economy is on an ascent, despite warnings of a Minsky Moment? What are the challenges to Bank Recapitalization and how would these face up to the challenges of the NPAs and PSB consolidation? These are pressing questions that simply cannot be answered by a political will getting catalyzed, but requires a deeper economic drift and traction.
So, if Bank Recapitalization to the tune of Rs. 2.1 lakh crore infusion into the public sector banks were to come through, and which it would, the budgetary allocations are a mere chunk, while raising money from the market too isn’t that major a factor. The roost is to be ruled by recapitalization bonds, or recap bonds, in short. What then are the challenges of this methodology?
Technically, in the current context, there is really not much of a risk in issuing recapitalization bonds. The outside risk of recapitalization bonds is that this move may tighten liquidity in the system if all the surplus liquidity in the banking system goes into its capital. However, since recapitalization bonds are callable in nature, this risk should not be too great. Also, the debt markets are now sufficiently deep and broad and can support the funding needs of the India corporates and hence that is unlikely to be a major issue. The only concern is that rating agencies globally will look at recapitalization as a form of off-balance sheet financing, which does not give them too much comfort. Many rating agencies look at such bonds as a means of raising debt that is not visible in the fiscal deficit. This lack of visibility is what might be the hurdles race for the government. But, then is there a way out?
Alternatively, what if the government were not to recapitalize? Then, it can look to postponing its adherence to Basel III from 2019. But that will be seen by global markets as an admission by the Government of India that it does not have the liquidity to capitalize its banks. That may not go down well with foreign investors. Under these circumstances, infusing capital into the banks through the issue of recapitalization bonds may be the best option available!
What are the main economic ramifications as a result of these? The government’s plan at recapitalization would have little impact on its target to shrink the shortfall to 3.2 percent of the GDP because the IMF rules classify such debt as “below the line” financing. Only interest expenses would be added to the fiscal deficit, and this is estimated at about Rs. 90 billion or 0.4 percent of the total budgeted spending. Technically, however, India’s accounting rules require the bonds to be included in the budget deficit, so the government would reclassify them later as off-balance sheet items. The government is yet to disclose the details on the structure and pricing of the bonds, as well as how it would raise the rest of the cash. These will determine if there is a liquidity squeeze. If the measures do revive credit growth, inflation may accelerate as well, limiting scope to lower the policy rate. When it comes to the question of who would buy these bonds, the answer is probably banks themselves, who are flush with deposits following the note ban. Banks can then cleverly invest these funds in the recap bonds which will then be ultimately routed back as equity in the system. This would ensure that the bond market would not be impacted by such a large issuance for the private sector issuers.
Now, these are serious questions questioning some of the advocacy groups have to come to terms with. For one thing, in my opinion, mergers and acquisitions to consolidate PSBs are to be put back on the back foot, for recapitalization has at least punctuated to for the time being. Second is credit growth, or more precisely credit demand, which would be induced with an energy following this exercise. Third, and most importantly, the lending might gain velocity, but only after April 2018, since banks would require a correctional facility on their balance sheets. This lending would somehow be channeled towards infrastructure giants like Sagarmala and Bharatmala with a key difference being that the Government might prioritize Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) over Hybrid Annuity Model like the PPP for the obvious risks associated with the latter subsequently feeding into the NPAs and/or stressed assets. 

Why Should Modinomics Be Bestowed With An Ignoble Prize In Economics? Demonetization’s Spectacular Failure.

This lesson from history is quite well known:

Muhammad bin Tughlaq thought that may be if he could find an alternative currency, he could save some money. So he replaced the Gold and Silver coins with copper currency. Local goldsmiths started manufacturing these coins and which led to a loss of a huge sum of money to the court. He had to take his orders back and reissue Gold/Silver coins against those copper coins. This counter decision was far more devastating as people exchanged all their fake currency and emptied royal treasure.

And nothing seems to have changed ideatically even after close to 800 years since, when another bold and bald move or rather a balderdash move by the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi launched his version of the lunacy. Throw in Demonetization and flush out black money. Well, that was the reason promulgated along with a host of other nationalistic-sounding derivatives like curbing terror funding, expanding the tax net, open to embracing digital economy and making the banking system more foolproof by introducing banking accounts for the millions hitherto devoid of any. But, financial analysts and economists of the left of the political spectrum saw this as brazen porto-fascistic move, when they almost unanimously faulted the government for not really understanding the essence of black money. These voices of sanity were chased off the net, and chided in person and at fora by paid trolls of the ruling dispensation, who incidentally were as clueless about it as about their existence. Though, some other motives of demonetization were smuggled in in feeble voices but weren’t really paid any heed to for they would have sounded the economic disaster even back then. And these are the contraband that could give some credibility to the whole exercise even though it has turned the world’s fastest-growing emerging economy (God knows how it even reached that pinnacle, but, so be it!) into a laughing stock of a democratically-elected dictatorial regime. What is the credibility talked about here? It was all about smashing the informal economy (which until the announcement of November 8 contributed to 40% of the GDP and had a workforce bordering on 90% of the entire economy) to smithereens and sucking it into the formal channel through getting banking accounts formalized. Yes, this is a positive in the most negative sense, and even today the government and whatever voices emanate from Delhi refuse to consider it as a numero uno aim.

Fast forward by 3 (period of trauma) + 8 (periods of post-trauma) months and the cat is out of the bag slapping the government for its hubris. But a spectacular failure it has turned out to be. The government has refused to reveal the details of how much money in banned notes was deposited back with the RBI although 8 months have passed since the window of exchange closed in January this year. Despite repeated questioning in Parliament, Supreme Court and through RTIs, the govt. and RBI has doggedly maintained that old banned notes were still being counted. In June this year, finance minister Arun Jaitley claimed that each note was being checked whether it was counterfeit and that the process would take “a long time”. The whole country had seen through these lies because how can it take 8 months to count the notes. Obviously there was some hanky panky going on. Despite statutory responsibility to release data related to currency in circulation and its accounts, the RBI too was not doing so for this period. They were under instructions to fiddle around and not reveal the truth. Consider the statistics next:

As on November 8, 2016, there were 1716.5 crore piece of Rs. 500 and 685.8 crore pieces of Rs. 1000 circulating the economy totaling Rs. 15.44 lakh crore. The Reserve Bank of India (RESERVE BANK OF INDIA ANNUAL REPORT 2016-17), which for a time as long as Urjit Patel runs the show has been criticized for surrendering the autonomy of the Central Bank to the whims and fancies of PM-run circus finally revealed that 99% of the junked notes (500 + 1000) have returned to the banking system. This revelation has begun to ricochet the corridors of power with severe criticisms of the government’s move to flush out black money and arrest corruption. When the RBI finally gave the figures through its annual report for 2016-17, it disclosed that Rs. 15.28 lakh crore of junked currency had formally entered the banking system through deposits, thus leaving out a difference of a mere (yes, a ‘mere’ in this case) Rs. 16,050 crore unaccounted for money. Following through with more statistics, post-demonetization, the RBI spent Rs. 7,965 crore in 2016-17 on printing new Rs. 500 and Rs. 2000 notes in addition to other denominations, which is more than double the Rs. 3,421 crore spent on printing new notes in the previous year. Demonetization, that was hailed as a step has proved to be complete damp squib as the RBI said that just 7.1 pieces of Rs. 500 per million in circulation and 19.1 pieces of Rs. 1000 per million in circulation were discovered to be fake further implying that if demonetization was also to flush pout counterfeit currency from the system, this hypothesis too failed miserably.

Opposition was quick to seize on the data with the former Finance minister P Chidambaram tweeting:

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He further lamented that with 99% of the currency exchanged, was demonetization a scheme designed to convert black money to white? Naresh Agarwal of Samajwadi Party said his party would move privilege motion against Urjit Patel for misleading a Parliamentary Panel on the issue.

But, what of the immense collateral damage that the exercise caused? And why is the government still so shameless in protecting a lunacy? Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on asserted that any attempt to measure the success of the government’s demonetization exercise on the basis of the amount of money that stayed out of the system was flawed since the confiscation of money had not been the objective. He maintained that the government had met its principal objectives of reducing the reliance on cash in the economy, expanding the tax base and pushing digitisation. Holy Shit! And he along with his comrades is selling and marketing this crap and sadly the majority would even buy into this. Let us hear him out on the official position:

Denying that demonetisation failed to achieve its objectives, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the measure had succeeded in reducing cash in the economy, increasing digitisation, expanding the tax base, checking black money and in moving towards integrating the informal economy with the formal one. “The objective of demonetisation was that India is a high-cash economy and that scenario needs to be altered,” Jaitley told following the release of the Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) annual report for the last fiscal giving the figures, for the first time, of demonetised notes returned to the system. The RBI said that of the Rs 15.44 lakh crore of notes taken out of circulation by the demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes last November, Rs 15.28 lakh crore, or almost 99 per cent, had returned to the system by way of deposits by the public.”The other objectives of demonetisation were to combat black money and expand the tax base. Post demonetisation, tariff tax base has increased substantially. Personal IT returns have increased by 25 per cent,” the Finance Minister said. “Those dealing in cash currency have now been forced to deposit these in banks, the money has got identified with a particular owner,” he said. “Expanding of the indirect tax base is evident from the results of the GST collections, which shows more and more transactions taking place within the system,” he added. Jaitley said the government has collected Rs 92,283 crore as Goods and Services Tax (GST) revenue for the first month of its roll-out, exceeding the target, while 21.19 lakh taxpayers are yet to file returns. Thus, the July collections target have been met with only 64 per cent of compliance. “The next object of demonetisation is that digitisation must expand, which climaxed during demonetisation and we are trying to sustain that momentum even after remonetisation is completed. Our aim was that the quantum of cash must come down,” Jaitley said. He noted in this regard that RBI reports that the volume of cash transactions had reduced by 17 per cent post-demonetisation. A Finance Ministry reaction to the RBI report said a significant portion of the scrapped notes deposited “could possibly be representing unexplained/black money”. “Accordingly, ‘Operation Clean Money’ was launched on 31st January 2017. Scrutiny of about 18 lakh accounts, prima facie, did not appear to be in line with their tax profile. These were identified and have been approached through email/sms. “Jaitley slammed his predecessor P. Chidambaram for his criticism of the note ban, saying those who had not taken a single step against black money were trying to confuse the objectives of the exercise with the amount of currency that came back into the system. The Finance Ministry said transactions of more than three lakh registered companies are being scrutinised, while one lakh companies have been “struck off the list”. “The government has already identified more than 37,000 shell companies which were engaged in hiding black money and hawala transactions. The Income-tax Directorates of Investigation have identified more than 400 benami transactions up to May 23, 2017, and the market value of properties under attachment is more than Rs 600 crore,” it said. “The integration of the informal with the formal economy was one of the principle objectives of demonetisation,” Jaitley said. He also said that demonetisation had dealt a body blow to terrorist and Maoist financing that was evident from the situation on the ground in Chhattisgarh and Jammu and Kashmir. One thing is for sure: more and more of gobbledygook is to follow.

One of the major offshoots of the demonetisation drive was a push towards a cashless, digital economy. Looking at the chart below, where there is presented the quantum of cashless transactions in some of the major economies of the world…one could only see India’s dismal position. Just about 2% of the volume of economic transactions in India are cashless.

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Less cash would mean less black money…less corruption…and more transparency. Is it? Assuming it is, how far the drive would go on driving? But was India really ready to go digital? There were 5.3 bank branches per one lakh Indians in rural India 15 years ago. On the eve of demonetization, the figure stood at 7.8 bank branches per one lakh Indians. This shows that a majority of rural India has very little access to banks and the organized financial sector. They rely heavily on cash and the informal credit system. Then, we have just 2.2 lakh ATMs in the country. For a population of over 1.2 billion people, that’s a very small number. And guess what? A majority of ATMs are concentrated in metros and cities. For instance, Delhi has more ATMs than the entire state of Rajasthan. Given the poor penetration of banks and formal sector financial services in rural India, Modi’s cashless economy ambitions were always a distant dream. Then there are issues of related to security. Were the banks and other financial institutions technologically competent to tackle the security issues associated with the swift shift towards a digital economy? Can the common man fully trust that his hard earned money in the financial system will be safe from hackers and fraudsters? And the answer does not seem be a comforting one!

“Those dealing in cash currency have now been forced to deposit these in banks, the money has got identified with a particular owner” So surveillance was the reason. Makes sense why they are so desperate to link aadhaar to bank accounts. Some researchers have considered couple of factors which have actually caused demonetization in India. First one includes the refinancing of public sector banks in India. 80% of banks in India are run by government, during the last two decades these banks have been used to lend out loans to corporations which stink of cronyism. These politically-affiliated businesses did not pay back their money which has resulted into the accumulation of huge amount of non-performing assets (NPAs) within these banks. From last three years warning signals were continuously coming about their collapse. Through demonetization millions of poor people have deposited their meagre sums within these banks which have resulted into their refinancing, so that they can now lend the money to the same guys who earlier do not paid back their loans. sounds pretty simplistic, right? Sad, but true, it is this simple. The second factor is the influence of technological and communications companies on the government, as these companies are among the fastest growing ones during the last two decades. Making payments through digital gate ways will be very beneficial for their growth. They can expand their influence over the whole human race. The statements from technological giants like Apple, Microsoft, MasterCard, Facebook, Google etc. clearly shows their intentions behind cashless society. Tim Cook the chief executive of Apple said that “next generation of children will not know what money is” as he promotes “apple pay” as an alternative. MasterCard executives consider apple pay as another step towards cashless society. MasterCard is mining Facebook users data to get consumer behaviour information which it can sell to banks. Bill gates said India will shift to digital payments, as the digital world lets you track things quickly. The acquisition of artificial intelligence companies by Google, Facebook and Microsoft is also on its peak. Over 200 private companies using AI algorithms across different verticals have been acquired since 2012, with over 30 acquisitions taking place in Q1 of 2017 alone. Apple acquired voice recognition firm “Vocal IQ and real face Google has acquired deep learning and neural network, Facebook acquired Masquerade Technologies and Zurich Eye. So what is actually going on, as private corporations and governments are desperate to introduce cashless economy through biometric payment system.

No black money was unearthed by Modi’s historic folly. Terrorism has also not gone down after demonetization and neither has circulation of counterfeit currency. So, it was a failure on all counts, a point that has been predicted by economists worldwide. What the note ban did was cause untold suffering and misery to common people, destroy livelihoods of millions of wage workers, caused bankruptcy to farmers because prices of their produce crashed and disrupted the economic life of the whole country. The only people who benefited from the note bandi were companies that own digital payment systems (like PayTM, MobiKwik etc.) and credit card companies. It also seems now that ultimately, the black money owners have benefited because they managed to convert all their black wealth in to white using proxies.

Conjuncted: Non-Performing Assets and Indian Banking – Unfolding Crisis

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The banking crisis is indeed getting ‘Alarming’ now. With Credit Suisse citing the NPAs as 8.4 per cent of the GDP and the latest figures toppling the country from its so-called vantage position of fastest growing major economy and bracketing the GDP growth at 6.1 per cent, we are actually faced with a negative growth considering banking sector in the country as the vanguard of India’s economic prowess. The ratio of NPAs to GDP measures the potential losses in relation to the size of the economy. This is especially useful in cross-country comparisons, given that countries are at different levels of GDP. The problem with this measure is that it does not indicate whether banks are able to handle the NPAs with their own resources or their own capital opening up possibilities for either capital infusion, which the Government would have to raise exponentially, or raising funds from the capital market. A more commonly used metric is the NPA to loans ratio. This shows the fraction of bank loans that has turned bad. One shortcoming of this measure is that it suggests the problem can be solved through denominator management – growing the loan books of banks to make the NPA ratio smaller. This growing out of the problem approach is not a reliable one. It depends on the overall economic environment and on the demand for credit. It assumes that the source of the NPA problem is external to the banking system and not in the weaknesses of the lending processes. If the demand for credit is slow it becomes difficult for the banks to grow their loan books. Even if the demand for credit were high, it would be difficult for the NPA-ridden banks to grow. Prolonged NPA episodes erode banks‘ capital and constrain their ability to grow their loan books. 

India’s Banking Crisis is Made Worse by the Poor Performance of its Debt Recovery Tribunals, and What to Say About the Bankruptcy Code?

Debt recovery tribunals were set up under the Recovery of Debts Due to Banks and Financial Institutions Act, 1993 with the aim of streamlining the mechanism to recover bad debts. This process was earlier handled by civil courts before being shifted to 38 debt recovery tribunals and five debt recovery appellate tribunals across the country. Since their conception, these tribunals have been dogged by concerns about their judicial independence because the Ministry of Finance, which controls public-sector banks, has had significant influence on them.

Almost as soon as its parent statute was passed by Parliament in 1993, the Delhi High Court Bar Association challenged the constitutionality of the debt recovery tribunal on the grounds that its parent statute lacked the judicial independence that is expected of judicial bodies. In 1995, the Delhi High Court struck down the Recovery of Debts Due to Banks and Financial Institutions Act, 1993 ruling that it was “unconstitutional as it erodes the independence of the judiciary and is irrational, discriminatory, unreasonable, arbitrary and is hit by Article 14 of the Constitution”. (Article 14 deals with equality before the law). Subsequently, the Gauhati and Karnataka High Courts also struck down the same legislation for being unconstitutional. On appeal, however, the Supreme Court in 2002 over-ruled all of the High Courts and upheld the constitutionality of the legislation.

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DRTs were created to help financial institutions recover dues speedily without being subjected to lengthy procedures of civil courts have fallen into the same trap precisely. In the words of Shaswat Sharma, partner, KPMG, India, “The functioning of DRTs needs to improve to ensure banks are able to recover their existing loans and offer fresh advances at cheaper rates…In the current scheme of things there is no mechanism in place to ensure that the tribunal disposes the case in a timely manner. There is a strong case to bring in more accountability for the DRT.” If dealing with the subject matter at hand with speed is the biggest challenge facing DRTs, any number of additional DRTs and Appellate Tribunals should address this problem convincingly as was outlined by the Finance Minister during his Budget Speech 16-17. The under performance is even keeping the RBI worried. In the words of Raghuram Rajan, Governor, RBI, “If bankers cannot get their money back, they are not going to give ou loans at cheap priceSo, making sure DRTs work better, making sure that you don’t have excess number of stays, excess number of appeals, is what needs to be focused on.”
Bankruptcy Code: Now with all the possible means exercised to constrain the rising debts, bad assets of financial institutions, the situation still seems far from under control, and its here that the proposed Bill on Bankruptcy with the vision to consolidate scattered laws relating to insolvency of companies makes a strong point. Recently, Finance Minister reiterated the commitment to introduce the Bill in the upcoming session of the Parliament. As with other mechanisms, the efficacy is still in hypothetical stage, but the Bill at least promises to accelerate the winding-up process of defaulting companies and opening up a quicker exit route for lenders. The draft of the code draws on may parallels to the US Bankruptcy Code, especially allowing companies to carry out businesses while simultaneously going through bankruptcy proceedings, while differing on management control, where, unlike in the US, the management control in India passes over to “insolvency resolution processes”. But, the question remains as to how would this Bill address the issue of NPAs? The impact felt is likely to be in,
a. The time frame of 180-day limit (an extension of a further 90 days in exceptional cases) would help lenders decide on the viability of the business, whereafter a liquidation process sets in.
b. Economic and financial viability of the debtor company is to be discussed in negotiations with the creditors facilitated by “insolvency experts” rather than courts lending the process more credibility.
c. Bill would have ample scope for early recognition of financial distress helping the process of easing out businesses under stress.
The success of the Bill would depend on how well it is implemented and whether setting up of an “insolvency regulator” would have the requisite powers to see its successful implementation. For the RBI, “an early clearance of the proposed insolvency and bankruptcy bill will play an important role in the face of mounting potential losses.”
Despite having a handful of measures to address the issues of NPAs and NPLs, few seem to be working positively, but are heavily relied upon and banked on for lack of a better alternative. What is really the need of the hour is to arm these mechanism to the teeth for results to flow out, and unless such is undertaken, the likelihood of policy paralysis would ensue.

What’s an Asset Reconstruction Company, and why does it even matter to NPAs?

As is suggestive of the name, ARCs are required to repackage assets to make them more saleable. But, in the context of bad loans, or non-performing assets, such companies often falter to garner enough firepower to root out the surging menace of NPAs. The Indian context is caused primarily by a systemic rot involving faulty practices of project finance and subsequent difficulties in recoveries on loans. ARCs are constituted to precisely address such hurdles. With their status as centralised agencies, these are programmed to buy up stressed/distressed and non-performing assets and repackage them to sell them to prospective promoters/buyers. ARCs are programmed to buy NPAs at a discounted price, which in turn help the banks and lenders to clean up their sticky balance sheets. ARCs can either be public, private or jointly owned, and are also armed to float bonds to recover dues from borrowers. Even if on paper the concept of an ARC looks robust with scalability to concoct a bad asset with a performing one in order to increase its saleability, in reality, ARCs are prone to failures for lack of buyers for their packages and limited by capital concerns. But, there are challenges galore for ARCs viz. debt aggregation is a far cry, and unless this is done, resolution will always be expeditious; hunt for fresh financial support; and discrepancy between banks and ARCs in pricing of assets, unless reached a commonality would continue to remain a contentious issue.

The whole concept of Asset Reconstruction Companies (ARCs) is closely modelled on the US model of Asset Management Companies (AMCs), and is thus a large industry in itself as far as buying and selling off of debts are concerned. It resembles a time to strike as the ducks are now lined, and the opportunities galore in private equities as ARCs get a chance to own the entire capital structure and reinstall management echelons, all thanks to Budgetary recommendations with a 100% FDI welcomed. But, it still is going a bit too far, and hence let us examine the evolution first.

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The real trigger for ARCs to flourish came with Raghuram Rajan’s exhortation to banks to clean up its mess. A switch of trajectory happened sometime in 2013, when ever greening bad loans was put on to back burner and let ARCs face up. This is where banks were obligated to turnaround loans until then considered unredeemable. Adding to that trigger point is another one banking on Bankruptcy Code, which promises discount to buying off bad debts or distressed assets at a discount pitting them more profitable a venture compared with greenfield projects of similar magnitude.

ARCs are born out of SARFAESI Act, 2002, (The Securitisation and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Interest Act, 2002) and enable the banks to acquire the securities which had been pledged. all of this was achievable without any interference from the jurisdiction of the civil courts thus lending authoritarian power to banks to cope up with NPAs. But regulatory directives prevented the smooth functioning of transactions involving bad debts, thanks to the decrepit system for enforcing securities. Sale of loans to ARCs is however the last resort banks undertake as statutory hurdles and deposed promoters speed break.

Basically, road to recovery is a step by step process involving, Bank selling a bad loan to ARC; ARCs paying 15% upfront, and issuing the remaining 85% as securities in the form of Security Receipts (SRs), which primarily deals with 5% upfront payment as was the case a year back; ARCs initiating the turnaround and in the process earning 1.5% management fee; recovery proceeds thus accrued get shared by the banks and the ARCs; and if the ARCs fail to recover the bad loans for eight years, the investments get written-off. Now, this can be seen as a clear shift from ever greening, or even liberal funding by the government year-on-year, and aptly reminds internal recapitalization as indispensable. Budgetary infusion or capital infusion or recapitalisation is putting capital for the purpose of helping the ailing public sector banks. The very understanding of PSBs would imply such an infusion required from time to time, but the problem lies in its ritualistic nature. On the contrary, if banks were to internally raise funds for recapitalisation, it would indicate a healthy practice. One reason the government does infusion is to meet Basel III norms, as reliance upon internal fund recapitalisation would not let that be accomplished. But, there is a caveat here to be always kept in mind. Written-off doesn’t necessarily mean that defaults and defaulters are not chased. They are undoubtedly sought after, with the only difference being the clean-up of balance sheets for the year such defaults happen for the banks. And, if they don’t write-offs, or alternatively called charge-offs effectuate helping banks not only erase the mess off their balance sheet, but saving them enormous tax liabilities. The real tussle is between charging-off loans and becoming industrious in selling them off. The winner takes it all, which in this case is hedging equivalent to selling off bad debts, and which is promulgated by the RBI and the government in jettisoning this messy baggage.

Would Large Exposure Framework, LEF effectively nip the NPAs/NPLs in the bud?

The narrative that non-state actors contribute to stressed assets (NPAs/NPLs :: English / Hindi) via their infrastructural forays and are as complicit in debilitating the banking health in the country as their public counterparts (excuse me for the liberty of giving budgetary allocations the same stature) is slightly misplaced on one important count: accessibility to market mechanisms. The former are adventurous with their instrumentals (yes, more often than not resulting in ignominy, but ingenuous in escaping for a better invention of monetary and fiscal instruments), while the latter are hand-held devices suffocated by Governmental interference and constrictions. The key point lies in the fact that former and not the latter enjoy as well as enjoin connectography, the key pillar to globalised financial in- and out-flows. Turning on to LEF, which I personally feel has enough teeth to sink into narrowing the risk exposure, but, sharpness of the teeth is still speculatively housed in the orbit.

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Although regulatory mechanisms are on an uptick, these efforts are not yielding results to be optimistic about, and even if they are, they are only peripheral at best. Deterrents to prevent large exposure of banks’ bad accounts are marred by lenient approach towards: inadequate tangible collaterals during credit exposure enhancements; promoter-equity contribution financed out of debt borrowed by another bank, leading to significant stress of debt servicing; and short-term borrowings made by corporations to meet working capital and current debt servicing obligations exerting severe liquidity pressures on account of stress build-up in their portfolios. These are cursory introductions to the necessity of Large Exposure Framework (LEF) by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI). This framework confines banking sector’s exposure to highly leveraged corporates by recommending an overarching ceiling on total bank borrowing by the corporates. The idea is to secure other external sources of funding for corporates other than banks by introducing a cap on bank borrowings. With the introduction of this cap, corporates would have to fend for their working capital by tapping market sources. How well this augurs for mitigating NPAs is yet to be scrutinised as the framework will take effect from next financial year. But, the framework has scope for recognising risks, whereby banks would be able to draft additional standard asset provisioning and higher risk weights for a specific borrower no matter how leveraged the borrower is. The issue of concentrated sectoral-risk would get highlighted, even if the single and group borrower exposure for each bank remains within prescribed limits. The framework thus limits relentless lending to a borrower reducing risks of snowballing NPAs by throwing open avenues of market capitalisation on one hand and more discernment regarding sectors vulnerable to fluctuating performances. The efficacy will only have to stand the test of time.