EPFO looks to invest in infrastructure debt fund

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SummaryKeen to get better returns on its investments, the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation is looking at putting a part of its Rs 5 lakh crore corpus in the finance ministry’s pet funding

Keen to get better returns on its investments, the Employees’ Provident Fund Organisation is looking at putting a part of its Rs 5 lakh crore corpus in the finance ministry’s pet funding option for core sector projects — infrastructure debt funds (IDF).

The move, if it goes through, will also help the cash-strapped core sector that requires an estimated $1 trillion over the next five years.

“If we can invest in bonds of infrastructure companies such as Power Finance Corporation, we should also be able to invest in bonds of the IDF. There should not be any distinction,” a senior EPFO official said.

The EPFO, through the labour ministry, has already begun talks with the finance ministry on the issue, the official said. A meeting between secretaries of the two ministries is expected to take place later this month to discuss easing of the EPFO’s stringent investment pattern for this purpose.

With rising asset liability mismatch banking sector funds for long gestation core sector projects have largely dried up and the finance ministry has been pushing for more investment in the infrastructure sector by insurance as well as pension funds.

While the department of economic affairs had earlier written to the EPFO to invest in infra debt funds, the department of financial services has also asked the insurance regulator IRDA to relax norms for insurance firms to allow for greater investment in the infrastructure sector.

“We need more investment opportunities, if we have to better returns for our subscribers,” the official pointed out. But concerns over risks entailed in such projects need to be addressed before the traditionally risk averse retirement fund manager will agree to invest.

With strict investment guidelines that allow a majority of its corpus to be put in government backed securities, the EPFO had in 2011-12 been able to offer just an 8.25 per cent return to its subscribers.

While the idea of setting up an IDF was originally discussed way back in 2009, former finance minister Pranab Mukherjee had in Budget 2011-12 announced that such funds would be set up. Since then a handful of IDFs are in the making, securing long term funding is a major obstacle for all of them.

The first IDF was set up earlier this year jointly by private sector lender ICICI Bank, Bank of Baroda, Citibank and Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC) with a corpus of $ 2 billion. Last week SREI

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