Now that the National Investment Board/Cabinet Committee on Investments (NIB/CCI) has been cleared by the Cabinet, chances are the focus over the next few weeks, indeed months, will be on the projects taken up by it and how it has been able to, or not been able to, kickstart Indiaís badly stalled investment process. Will Posco come to the CCI or wonít it given how, at environment minister Jayanthi Natarajanís insistence, the CCI has no appellate powers? And what about VedantaÖ
Much of this, however, seems to be missing the wood for the trees. Going by the finance ministryís statements, India has around R1.3 lakh crore of projects that are stuck due to some clearance not coming through. So now that the CCI has come through, the argument goes, these projects will soon get cleared. Itís true that many banks donít have the headroom to lend much more to infrastructure projects, but that has been resolved by pushing through the concept of Infrastructure Debt Fund (IDF)óso once SBI, say, sells its loans in, say DIAL, to IDFCís IDF, this will create more space for SBI to be able to lend again. Thatís the logic: wherever there are obvious gaps/problems, a diligent government is finding solutions.
Thatís obviously the way to go, but itís important to keep in mind this may be barking up the wrong tree. For one, getting banks to hawk their better-performing infrastructure loans to IDFs may actually make their books look shakier.
Two, consider a new telco that bids R12,000 crore, say, for a pan-Indian 2G licence (thatís roughly the base price today). Will a bank, any bank, be willing to lend R15,000 crore or so to fund the telcoís licence and capex when it knows the market leader Bharti Airtel has been seeing pretty disappointing results for several quarters now and when it is up to its neck in debt with a debt-ebitda of an uncomfortable 2.8 times projected for FY13? More so when it knows the governmentís new policy of a high one-time entry fee combined with a high annual spectrum/licence fee makes (http://goo.gl/C6zTA) the business totally unviable.
Or take a power project looking for financing. Given the sectorís annual losses have more than quadrupled over the last 5 years to R80,000 crore in FY12, and no clarity on whether SEBs will be able to pay for the power even after the loan restructuring just announced, which bank will