[Anita Baid is a Senior Manager at Vinod Kothari Consultants P. Ltd]
Investments by foreign portfolio investors (FPIs) in unlisted debentures and securitised debt instruments (SDIs) issued by Indian companies was allowed pursuant to a notification dated 27 February, 2017 issued by the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI). Earlier in November, 2016, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) had also permitted investment by FPIs in unlisted non-convertible debentures and SDIs issued by Indian companies. The said reforms by the securities market regulator and financial services regulator were the final push needed to encourage more FPI investments in India.
Previously, FPIs could invest only in debt securities of companies engaged in the infrastructure sector. This was a clear indication that the Government aimed to develop the infrastructure sector in India. But eventually, it seemed that the Government did not want to restrict this to infrastructure and sought to reap the benefits from developing a dynamic and facilitative bond market in the country.
Companies are now able to raise debt funding from foreign sources in form of unlisted debt, i.e., without listing the instrument. Apart from unlisted debt instruments, FPI investments in SDIs have also gained a lot of popularity. SDI has been defined under SEBI (Public Offer and Listing of Securitised Debt Instruments) Regulations, 2008 (i.e., the Regulations) as follows:
“securitised debt instrument” means any certificate or instrument, by whatever name called, of the nature referred to in sub-clause (ie) of clause (h) of section 2 of the Act issued by a special purpose distinct entity
Further, section 2(h)(ie) of the Securities Contracts (Regulation) Act, 1956 defines the term ‘securities’ to include-
(ie) any certificate or instrument (by whatever name called), issued to an investor by any issuer being a special purpose distinct entity which possesses any debt or receivable, including mortgage debt, assigned to such entity, and acknowledging beneficial interest of such investor in such debt or receivable, including mortgage debt, as the case may be;
However, SDIs that are eligible for FPI investments must comply with the following characteristics:
(a) any certificate or instrument issued by a special purpose vehicle (SPV) set up for securitisation of assets where banks, financial institutions (FIs) or non-banking finance companies (NBFCs) are originators; and/or
(b) any certificate or instrument issued and listed in terms of the Regulations.
Accordingly, instruments issued entities by other than the ones listed above will neither be regulated by the central bank of the country nor the securities market regulator. Recently, the RBI has further relaxed the regulations for investments by FPI, which has been welcomed by the industry at large. At the same time it has also tightened investor-wise exposure limits.
By way of its notification dated 27 April, 2018 (which was amended on 1 May, 2018), the RBI has relaxed the terms of investments in corporate bonds by FPIs. The intent behind these changes is to accelerate the demand for shorter maturity papers that mature within the span of twelve months. Treasury bills, commercial papers and certificate of deposits are a few ubiquitous short-term maturity instruments.
Further, exposure limits on FPI investment in corporate bonds have also been introduced. The relevant extract of the circular is reproduced herein below:
(e) Single/Group investor-wise limit in corporate bonds
FPI investment in corporate bonds shall be subject to the following requirements:
(i) Investment by any FPI, including investments by related FPIs, shall not exceed 50% of any issue of a corporate bond. In case an FPI, including related FPIs, has invested in more than 50% of any single issue, it shall not make further investments in that issue until this stipulation is met.
(ii) No FPI shall have an exposure of more than 20% of its corporate bond portfolio to a single corporate (including exposure to entities related to the corporate). In case an FPI has exposure in excess of 20% to any corporate (including exposure to entities related to the corporate), it shall not make further investments in that corporate until this stipulation is met. A newly registered FPI shall be required to adhere to this stipulation starting no later than 6 months from the commencement of its investments.
Prior to the change, FPIs were only permitted to invest in corporate bonds with minimum residual maturity of three years or above. Pursuant to the recent amendment, FPIs are permitted to invest in corporate bonds with minimum residual maturity of above one year. Further, investments by an FPI in corporate bonds with residual maturity below one year shall not exceed, at any point in time, 20% of the total investment of that FPI in corporate bonds. Also, as a whole, the investment by an FPI including related FPIs cannot be more than 50% of any issue of corporate bonds. The principal issues that need to be specifically emphasized are:
(a) whether pass through certificates (PTCs) issued by special purpose trust (SPV), under a securitization transaction, would qualify to be a corporate bond;
(b) whether, residual maturity norms shall apply in case of SDIs; and
(c) whether investment made in the PTCs issued by the SPV can be treated as an exposure on the originator and whether it will fall under the aforesaid concentration limits.
First, it is pertinent to note that the concentration limits are for issuance of corporate bonds. In case securities are issued by an SPV, the same does not fall under the category of corporate bond. Regulation 21(1) of the SEBI (Foreign Portfolio Investors) Regulations, 2014 provides a list of instruments in which FPIs can invest. The list originally included corporate securities like non-convertible debentures/bonds, shares, securities, etc. issued by an Indian company. However, subsequently the Regulations were amended to include SDIs issued by SPVs. It can be argued, the very intention of including the SDIs was because the instruments were not originally covered under items provided therein. Therefore, it can be safely concluded that SDIs cannot be considered as corporate bonds. Since SDIs are not considered corporate bonds, the residual maturity limit shall also not be applicable.
Second, in securitization transactions, the originator sells the receivables to the SPV on true sale and non-recourse basis. The SPV issues PTCs on a private placement basis, backed by the receivables owned by the SPV and the investors subscribes to the PTCs. The exposure of the investor is on the SPV and ultimately on the underlying receivables and not on the originator, save and except for any credit enhancement provided for the transaction which puts an obligation on the originator.
Moreover, the priority sector lending (PSL) requirements of commercial banks are also fulfilled by investing in PTCs, wherein there is a see-through approach. The regulators do not look at the PTC as a security of the issuer, but consider it based on a see-through approach for complying with the PSL requirements. Therefore, investments made in PTCs cannot be considered as exposure on the originator.
– Anita Baid