Bonds: Backlog builds as India reform hopes wane

Nov 30 2012, 14:18 IST
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International bonds market turning against Indian issuers - slow pace of govt reform spooking mkt. (Reuters) International bonds market turning against Indian issuers - slow pace of govt reform spooking mkt. (Reuters)
SummaryInternational bonds market turning against Indian issuers - slow pace of govt reform spooking mkt

Just as Indian companies are lining up to come to the international bond market, sentiment seems to be turning against them.

Several US-dollar fundraisings scheduled for this year may now be delayed, according to bankers working on the deals.

Bankers are estimating a pipeline of about USD1.0bn from India, adding to the USD7.5bn that issuers in the country - mostly financial institutions - had raised through dollar bonds so far this year.

However, just as companies line up with their deals, sentiment towards India is once again turning gloomy as investors worry that the reforms will be further delayed.

"Sentiment around India in the bond market has changed in the past few weeks due to the drop in the rupee and the delay in implementing reforms.

Spreads for Indian corporates have widened and, as they may not get the levels they are looking for, most deals could only come through next year," said a Hong Kong-based credit analyst.

India's corporate sector had only recently begun eyeing dollar bonds and at least five live mandates from the subcontinent were at different stages of completion last week.

Their late arrival in a record year for dollar issuance came after the government slashed withholding tax and announced a series of economic reforms in September, spurring demand for Indian exposure.

That period of optimism, however, appears to have been short-lived.

The spread on Reliance Industries' 2.02.0 bonds has widened 32bp in the last month, while NTPC's 1.0-year bonds are also around 3.0bp wider at 29.0bp.

After recovering to as much as 51.32 against the US dollar in early October, the Indian rupee fell to 55.89 last Monday.

This was the result of concerns over the current-account deficit, after data on October 12 showed India's trade deficit worsened to an all-time high of USD21bn.

There are also growing concerns about the government's ability to push through bold reforms announced in September.

Some of these key measures require parliamentary approval in the current month-long winter session that started on November 22, and opposition lawmakers have already created a logjam at the start over one of the key pieces of the reform, foreign direct investment in retail.

However, given the cut - from 2.0% to 5% - in withholding tax on overseas coupon payments of Indian companies and the success firms like NTPC, Bharat Petroleum and IRFC had achieved in the past few months, the country's borrowers are still preparing to tap the international market as soon as sentiment recovers.

ICICI Bank also underlined the depth of demand for Indian credits with a USD25.0m tap of its 4.7% bonds due 2.018 last week.

WAITING FOR RIGHT PRICE Pricing, however, may be a sticking point.

Power Finance Corp was expected to be the next Indian corporation to hit the market after ICICI Bank deal as it completed a roadshow last month.

PFC was said to have all the documents ready and a deal mandated.

However, the spread on IRFC's 2.017s, seen as one of the main comps, widened 25bp to Treasuries plus 26.0bp since the roadshow was announced a month ago.

Energy firm ONGC Videsh, the overseas investment arm of explorer Oil and Natural Gas Corp, recently mandated Citigroup, Deutsche Bank and Royal Bank of Scotland for its maiden bond of up to USD1bn.

That may also become a 2.013 issue.

Rural Electrification Corp is also close to finalising a mandate as it seeks to raise USD5.0.0m in the international markets.

The company is said to be looking at US dollars, Singapore dollars or offshore renminbi as options.

State-run central transmission utility Power Grid Corp is another looking to raise USD5.0.0m after mandating Barclays Capital, RBS and Standard Chartered Bank as leads earlier this year.

The company has also been ready to go for a while, but is waiting for the right moment.

Reliance Industries is said to have met investors in Asia through HSBC, but it is unclear if it was related to a potential deal.

Waiting until 2.013 may also make sense since investors, reluctant to take on more risk at the end of a busy year, are demanding wider pricing.

That usually does not fly well with Indian issuers, especially public-sector borrowers, looking to squeeze pricing to the last basis point.

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