‘Fin Creditor Claims Should Have Primacy’

Analysis of RBI Governor’s Stance on Prioritizing Financial Creditors’ Claims during Bankruptcy and Impacts for Industries and Retail Investors

Source and Citation: ET Bureau Economics Times, Jan 12, 2024

Analysis for Layman

The recent statements made by Shaktikanta Das, the Governor of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), have sparked discussions regarding the priority of financial creditors in the context of corporate bankruptcy. Financial creditors, such as banks and NBFCs that provide funding to companies, are at the center of this debate. Das advocates for granting them higher priority over other creditors during the bankruptcy resolution process governed by the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC).

The IBC is the primary legislation in India that dictates the proceedings when a company becomes insolvent or goes bankrupt. During the bankruptcy resolution, creditors aim to recover their dues. The RBI governor’s argument is that financial creditors should be given primacy, meaning they should be first in line to receive payments because they assume more significant risks compared to operational creditors or employees. This implies that financial lenders would receive their dues before others in bankruptcy proceedings.

Das contends that this approach will adequately compensate financial creditors for the risks they take and incentivize them to continue providing loans to companies in India, thus boosting economic growth. However, opponents argue that this may disadvantage smaller suppliers and employees who also rely on recovering their dues during insolvency proceedings. The ongoing debate revolves around striking the right balance between different categories of creditors within the framework of the IBC.

‘Fin Creditor Claims Should Have Primacy’

Impact on Retail Investors

Retail investors must assess their exposure to companies facing financial distress or bankruptcy when making investment decisions. Prioritizing repayments to lenders under the IBC can enhance recovery rates for financiers. However, operational creditors, particularly small suppliers, may recover substantially less if they hold lower-priority claims.

For minority shareholders, the prioritization of financial creditors implies that equity investments become the last in line to receive payments. With more lenders willing to extend loans, companies continuously optimizing their capital structures may exhibit higher debt ratios. This increased indebtedness elevates the risk of insolvency, potentially erasing retail investors’ equity stakes. Thus, it is imperative for retail investors to monitor leverage levels and lender safety margins when investing in companies susceptible to cyclical economic downturns.

Retail investors should diversify their portfolios across various sectors and companies with differing creditor profiles. Sectors like infrastructure, real estate, and cyclical industries often maintain higher Debt/EBITDA ratios. Investors need tailored investment strategies that account for diverse creditor claims, whether financial or operational, especially in sectors heavily reliant on borrowing. Careful selection of investments, portfolio allocation, and continuous monitoring of borrower health are critical considerations for retail investors.

Impact on Industries

The stance adopted by the RBI governor will have varying implications for corporate India, depending on the business models and creditor profiles of different sectors.

Sectors such as infrastructure, real estate, and renewables heavily rely on external project financing from banks and NBFCs. Prioritizing repayments to their significant financial creditors will ensure continuous access to the necessary funding for capital investments. However, this could limit the availability of working capital for contractors and sub-contractors with lower payout priority.

Rate-sensitive cyclical sectors, including telecom, automotive, and metal companies, carry substantial debt burdens. Their financial creditors may benefit from higher recovery rates during insolvency cases, while operational creditors face greater uncertainty, which could lead to tighter supplier payment terms.

In contrast, technology, consumer healthcare, and staple sectors operate less leveraged business models. While lenders face lower default risks, they may have limited opportunities for payback prioritization from corporate debtors with strong financial positions that are less susceptible to bankruptcy filings.

Overall, the governor’s policy stance impacts risk distribution among creditors, affecting access to funds, input costs, and payment security. Companies and sectors that rely heavily on leverage will need to find a delicate balance.

Long Term Benefits & Negatives

Assigning priority status to financial creditors may have long-term benefits by boosting lending activities that support economic growth. Banks and NBFCs provide growth capital for infrastructure expansion, manufacturing, and services. Protecting lender interests is designed to reduce risks, but it could lead to higher systemic leverage over time unless implemented judiciously by creditors and oversight bodies.

Another potential long-term benefit is the attraction of foreign investments if overseas creditors perceive better prospects for insolvency recovery following assurances of financial creditor primacy. This may lead to lower overall lending rates.

However, the increased viability of higher-risk lending could encourage reckless underwriting and continued financing of unviable projects by zombie companies reliant solely on new borrowings. Therefore, prudent safeguards against excessive risk due to priority assurances during bankruptcy are necessary for the RBI and commercial lenders.

Uncertainties also surround the impacts on smaller businesses, which are crucial for broad-based growth. Extended payment delays, stricter trade credit terms, and working capital constraints for MSME operational creditors could hinder their expansion and competitiveness, potentially reversing inclusion gains.

In conclusion, the RBI’s stance on financial creditor primacy necessitates a delicate balance between encouraging lending markets, managing financial system risks, and ensuring equitable distribution of insolvency burdens among large and small creditors across the corporate landscape. The sustainable management of these factors will determine long-term outcomes.

Short Term Benefits & Negatives

If the stance further intensifies the focus on lender primacy through legal or regulatory changes, it can influence near-term credit availability, borrowing rates, and risk-sharing among creditors in ongoing cases.

In the short term, banks and NBFCs may expedite approvals for higher-quality borrowers, resulting in easier access to growth capital for certain sectors like infrastructure, housing, and their related industries. This increased risk appetite, however, could elevate systemic leverage and temporarily reduce lending margins.

Another potential benefit may be observed in foreign currency credit markets, where overseas lenders provide essential financing for imports across sectors such as oil & gas, electronics, power, and telecom equipment. Greater clarity regarding recovery outcomes could expand their funding pools, benefiting sectors reliant on such trade credit facilities.

Nonetheless, the increased viability of riskier lending could relax prudent loan underwriting standards, potentially allowing unviable projects to secure financing solely based on lender protections during bankruptcy. Consequently, rigorous oversight of credit standards remains essential.

For small businesses further down the creditor chain, persistent working capital shortages, slimmer margins, and prolonged payment delays could compound near-term operational challenges, ultimately undermining their competitiveness.

Therefore, the benefits of prioritizing financial creditors must be carefully weighed against the potential transmission of risks due to narrower safety margins.

Companies Impacted by Potential Primacy for Financial Creditors in Insolvency Cases

Indian Companies Potentially Gaining:

  • Banks and Financial Institutions: Increased likelihood of recovering their loans in bankruptcy situations would strengthen lending appetite and potentially improve profitability. Banks like HDFC Bank, ICICI Bank, and Axis Bank could benefit significantly.
  • Asset Reconstruction Companies (ARCs): Faster resolution of bad loans through improved recovery prospects could enhance ARC valuations and attract more investments. Companies like ARCIL, Edelweiss ARC, and Reliance ARC might see increased interest.
  • Companies with Stressed Debts: Potential for higher recoveries by lenders during bankruptcy could incentivize such companies to proactively seek resolution under the IBC framework. This could benefit sectors with high non-performing loans (NPLs), such as power, infrastructure, and telecom.

Indian Companies Potentially Losing:

  • Suppliers and Trade Creditors: Prioritizing financial creditors may leave them with lower recovery prospects, potentially impacting their cash flow and financial health. Companies heavily reliant on trade credit, particularly in sectors like commodities and manufacturing, could be at risk.
  • Operational Creditors: Similar to suppliers, their claims might receive lower priority, potentially leading to increased working capital pressures and financial difficulties. This could impact companies across various sectors with significant operational expenses.
  • Distressed Debtor Companies: The prospect of higher recoveries for lenders might increase pressure on them to restructure debt at potentially steeper discounts, impacting their equity valuations and shareholder wealth.

Global Companies with Potential Upsides:

  • International Investment Firms: Enhanced transparency and predictability within the IBC framework could attract more foreign investment in distressed Indian assets, benefiting global investment firms with expertise in turnaround situations.
  • Global Debt Providers: Improved resolution timelines and higher recovery likelihood for lenders might encourage more international debt financing for Indian companies, potentially opening up new funding avenues.

Global Companies with Potential Downsides:

  • International Trading Partners: If supplier and trade creditor recoveries suffer, it could impact Indian imports and exports, potentially affecting global firms involved in trade with India.
  • Global Lenders with Existing Indian Exposure: While increased recovery prospects are generally positive, any adjustments to existing debt agreements or restructuring terms could impact their returns and portfolio performance.

Market Sentiment:

Overall, the news is likely to be positive for banks and financial institutions, ARCs, and potentially companies seeking resolution under the IBC. However, suppliers, trade creditors, distressed debtors, and certain global firms involved in Indian trade or lending might face negative impacts. Market sentiment towards impacted sectors and companies should be closely monitored in the light of these potential developments.

Remember, this is an initial analysis based on limited information. The actual impact on individual companies and the market may vary depending on further details and implementation of the potential changes to the IBC.

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