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Airtel International begins cash purchase of its USD 1.5 bn bonds to reduce debt

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New Delhi: Bharti Airtel on Saturday said it will pre-pay USD 1.5 billion debt with its subsidiary Bharti Airtel International (Netherlands), using the proceeds it got from six global entities investing in its Africa unit.

Bharti Airtel International (Netherlands) B V commenced cash purchase of USD 1.5 billion, 5.125 per cent Guaranteed Senior Notes which were due in 2023, Bharti Airtel said in a regulatory filing.

This offer, it said, has been made with a view to “proactively manage its capital structure, reduce gross debt and leverage by acquiring the Notes funded out of equity proceeds and also provide liquidity to Noteholders at a premium to the market.” Bharti Airtel group continues to deleverage and pursue its strategies towards that end, it added.

“In line with this, it has been actively exploring various equity driven initiatives, including those previously announced regarding its Africa business, so as to proactively manage its balance sheet and capital structure to align them to the group’s core conservative philosophy,” it said.

Bharti Airtel International’s (Netherlands) parent Airtel Africa Ltd, a UK incorporated subsidiary of Bharti ?Airtel Limited, recently made a successful primary equity issuance of USD 1.25 billion to six leading global investors, including Warburg Pincus, Temasek, Singtel, SoftBank Group and others.

“The proceeds of this equity issuance are intended to be used to reduce Airtel Africa’s existing debt of approximately USD 5 billion on the date of the announcement,” it said.

The proceeds of this equity issuance are now fully realised and available as cash. The company also carries organic cash on its balance sheet.

“The company wishes to utilize the proceeds of this equity issuance and the cash available to it to reduce its existing debt by offering to purchase ‘any and all’ of the Notes pursuant to the Tender Offer.

“Via the Tender Offer, the company is also providing liquidity to the Noteholders at a specified premium over the market price at launch,” the filing said.

This offer is in addition to the previously announced tender offer cum repayment of EUR 1 billion 4 per cent notes maturing December 2018, for which funding has been drawn and available as cash with the company.

Earlier this week, Moody’s Investors Service had placed Bharti Airtel’s rating on review for downgrade on low levels of profitability and expectation of weak cash flow.

Moody’s had placed on review for downgrade the ‘Baa3’ issuer and senior unsecured rating of Bharti Airtel and the ratings on the backed senior unsecured notes issued by Bharti Airtel International (Netherlands) B V.


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Praising notes ban, RBI’s Gurumurthy says economy would have collapsed

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New Delhi: Ahead of next week’s crucial board meeting of RBI, the central bank’s independent director and RSS ideologue S Gurumurthy made a case for calibration of its massive Rs 9.6 lakh crore reserves, saying no central bank in the world maintains such high levels of surplus.

Gurumurthy, who was appointed to the board of RBI a few months back, said the capital adequacy ratio prescribed in India is 1 per cent higher than the global Basel norms. He also pitched for easing lending norms for small and medium enterprises, which account for 50 per cent of the country’s GDP.

In his first public comments since the spat between the RBI and the Finance Ministry over a range of issues came out in the open, Gurumurthy said the stand-off “is not a happy thing at all”.

The RBI’s board meeting is scheduled to take place on Monday where the issues raised by the government, including easing of PCA norms, cutting size of reserves and enhancing credit to MSMEs, are likely to come up for discussion.

Praising the shock demonetisation of old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes in November 2016, he said the Indian economy would have collapsed under the weight of high denomination currency notes which had risen to Rs 4.8 lakh crore in just 18 months and was being funnelled to real estate and gold. On the issue of capital framework for RBI, he said two different studies have put the adequate size of reserve that the central bank must maintain to guard against default risk at 12 per cent and 18.76 per cent. However, the RBI currently has reserve of 27-28 per cent, which may have further gone up due to the recent depreciation in the value of rupee.

“The appreciation in the value of the dollar is the reserve of the Reserve Bank. You bought dollar at 42-45, and it is now 70. Just like when you buy some shares and the share values go up, and you take the appreciation as your reserve, this is the reserve.

“You cannot say, come on it has appreciated so much, give me that money. I don’t think the government is asking for that. As my understanding goes, the government is only asking for a formulation of a policy as to how much reserve the central bank must have. Most central banks don’t have reserves of this kind at all, only RBI has these kinds of reserves,” he said.

Gurumurthy was delivering a lecture on ‘State of the Economy: India and the World’ at the Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF) here.

Stating that the stand-off between the RBI and government “is not a happy thing at all”, he indicated that differences could be a result of considering only the American system as the perfect ecosystem.

“But I think an alternative is necessary and exists also. That is part of an overall correction of the Indian mind,” he said.

On easing of Prompt Corrective Action (PCA) framework, he said there has been certain revisions of norms recently.

“If capital adequacy is the only ground, then much of this problem won’t be there. But there is capital adequacy-plus grounds on which this issue is there. That is the matter of dispute between the government and RBI,” he said.

The PCA framework kicks in when banks breach any of the three key regulatory trigger points — namely capital to risk weighted assets ratio, net non-performing assets (NPA) and return on assets (RoA).

Of the 21 state-owned banks, 11 are under the PCA framework. These are Allahabad Bank, United Bank of India, Corporation Bank, IDBI Bank, UCO Bank, Bank of India, Central Bank of India, Indian Overseas Bank, Oriental Bank of Commerce, Dena Bank and Bank of Maharashtra. With regard to Basel III norms on capital adequacy, he said the BIS prescribes these for only internationally active banks.

“But banks which are not internationally active, need not conform to what (they) say. The universal banks need not conform to what (they) say. We don’t have any commercial banks. We have only universal banks because our banks do term lending. But still the same Basel norms are imposed,” he said. In India, for both internationally active and domestic banks it is 9 per cent, he said.

“We are doing more than what Basel wants and so the banks have less money to lend. These are all the things on which there is no discourse in India,” he noted. There are only four internationally active banks in India, he said, adding all others are domestic lenders. “They need not have 8 per cent capital. They are forced into having 9 per cent capital. Because some people think the IMF feels happy if we have 9 per cent capital,” he said.

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High growth necessary for poverty alleviation:Jaitley

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New Delhi: A high rate of growth is necessary to alleviate poverty and ensure that benefits of development reach the poor, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said.

Addressing the 25th World Congress of Savings and Retail Banks here, he also said an aspirational society cannot wait indefinitely for the benefits of growth to improve the quality of life of the poor.

“Economies like ours all over the world need a high rate of growth. We want to use growth as a mechanism to pull the maximum number of people out of poverty, improve upon quality of life but we are conscious of the fact that dangers of development and progress benefiting a few and leaving many others out of inclusion system are also there,” he said.

Therefore, he said, “the penetration effect of growth will certainly take place but it will be a slow process and aspirational society is not willing to wait indefinitely.”

Talking about the financial inclusion drive of the Narendra Modi government since 2014, he said the ultimate objective was to bank the unbanked, secure the unsecured, fund the unfunded and service the unserviced areas.

Banks, especially public sector banks, opened 330 million accounts under the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY) in a few months, he said. Initially, it was zero balance accounts and gradually people started putting in money.

To incentivise operational accounts, he said an overdraft facility was provided to them. Noting that India predominately is an uninsured and unpensioned society, he said the government offered insurance at very affordable premium as part of the social security system through the PMJDY account.

A total of 141 million people are enrolled under accident insurance while 55 million have availed life insurance under the scheme, he said. Besides, a low premium pension policy called Atal Pension Yojana was launched, targeted at providing sustenance pension after 60 years of age.

For funding the unfunded, the government introduced the Mudra scheme. Once these accounts became operational, he said the government moved towards formalising and digitising the economy.

“To formalise the economy, the government demonetised high value currency which compelled people to put all their cash into the banking system,” he said.

The government also introduced a new taxation regime — the Goods and Services Tax (GST) — where multiple taxes were combined into one, he said, adding the tax system became completely online and brought many activities into the formal system.

This is still work on progress, Jaitley added. Speaking at the occasion, Financial Services Secretary Rajiv Kumar said enthused by the success of PMJDY, the government recently launched its second phase with a target of providing bank accounts to all individuals and doubling overdraft facility to Rs 10,000.

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Agri sector needs long-term solutions, loan waiver temporary: Naidu

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Mumbai: Terming farm loan waiver and free power supply as mere “temporary and populist” steps, Vice-President Venkaiah Naidu made a pitch for long-term solutions like infrastructure support and cheap credit to improve the agriculture sector.

Delivering the Laxmanrao Inamdar Memorial Lecture here, Naidu also called for suitable changes in the laws governing the cooperative sector in view of changed techno-economic and business scenarios to make the cooperative institutions “viable and vibrant”.

The University of Mumbai had organised the lecture to mark the birth centenary late Laxmanrao Inamdar, who was instrumental in the formation of Sahakar Bharati in 1979.

“There are many challenges in the agriculture sector. You cannot have temporary solutions to agriculture. Loan waiver, free current … they are temporary,” he said.

“What is needed is remunerative price, infrastructure support for agriculture and cheap credits. Unfortunately for political reasons, we move to populistic, temporary measures,” Naidu said adding that the governments should rather focus on long-term solutions.

He said since agriculture was becoming unviable, people were moving to urban areas from rural parts.

“You cannot reverse urbanisation, even if you want to … Even today, 56 per cent people depend on agriculture.

“The best method of (improving) agriculture according to me is the strengthening of the cooperative movement. This has to be understood by all including the planners, NITI Aayog, political parties, Parliament, people and media,” he said.

“The prime minister promised to double farmers’ income by 2022. This is a noble idea, but it is not simple. The government has raised the MSP of most of the crops. Cooperatives can help small and marginal farmers in taking the benefits of higher MSPs,” he said.

Terming India’s cooperative movement as the “biggest” in the world, he said it has led to tremendous progress in several sectors of the Indian economy.

“I am told 75 per cent of rural households have been covered through a network of over 8.50 lakh cooperatives with a membership of well over 25 crore,” he said.

Naidu, however, lamented that in recent years, the cooperative sector has faced structural challenges like dormant membership, lack of active participation of members in the management, politicisation of cooperatives and bureaucratic control.

Similarly, low level of participation by women and youth is a challenge and needs to be addressed, he said.

“Mounting dues in cooperative credit institutions, inadequate mobilisation of own resources, over-dependence on governmental and institutional support, lack of professional management have proved harmful to their growth. There have been instances of mismanagement and absence of monitoring,” he said.

“Probably, the time has come to bring requisite changes in the relevant laws governing the cooperative sector in the context of changed techno-economic and business scenario to make the cooperatives viable and vibrant enterprises,” the vice president said.

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