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In relief for India, US could delay action on oil, trade sanctions till June

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India and the US won’t immediately escalate vexed trade-related issues and are expected to hold their position on all important matters till a new government is formed in New Delhi by the month-end, officials with knowledge of the matter said on Tuesday.

US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross too hinted the two sides will maintain their positions in his speech at the Trade Winds business forum, while raising the issue of trade imbalance with India.

“We applaud India’s commitment to addressing some of these barriers once the government is reformed, probably starting in the month of June,” he said.

Election-bound India is expected to form a new government before the tenure of the current Lok Sabha ends on June 3.

India’s main concerns include the US decision to enforce sanctions on oil imports from Iran, one of the country’s main energy suppliers, and the withdrawal of benefits under the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) programme.

Washington is concerned by the trade imbalance because of tariff and non-tariff barriers, and regulations that US officials say put foreign companies at a disadvantage.

According to the officials cited above, India has explained to the US that strategic matters, including trade-related issues, can be effectively dealt with after the new government is formed.

They added the US has hinted it might make a final decision on withdrawing incentives under GSP after the new government is formed.

The two sides are also locked in disputes over Indian price caps on imported US medical devices, and e-commerce rules barring companies from selling products through firms in which they have an equity interest.

Ross contended India’s push to get foreign firms to store more of their user data locally is a hindrance to trade, and said India’s treatment of Walmart after its acquisition of Flipkart was an “important issue”.

“So the American companies are showing very good will and a very cooperative attitude towards ‘Make in India’ and the other programmes,” Ross told CNBC-TV18. “But there’s a limit to how far the discriminatory behaviour can go.”

Commerce minister Suresh Prabhu said he had “an excellent” meeting with Ross on Monday, during which they discussed “how to take this relationship to the next level”.

Prabhu expanded US President Donald Trump’s slogan “Make America great again” to “Let’s make America great again by making India-US relationship far better again”. Ross rephrased it to “MAGAWIC”, or “Make America great again with Indian cooperation”.

Ross told the business forum US technologies and expertise can play a key role in developing India’s economy but faced “significant market access barriers”. Noting that India is the third largest economy and would become the largest consumer market by 2030, he added: “Yet today, India is only the US’ 13th largest export market due to overly restrictive market access barriers.”

On the other hand, the US is India’s largest export market, accounting for about 20% of the total. “That’s a real imbalance, and it’s an imbalance we must drive to counter,” he said.

He contended India’s average applied tariff rate of 13.8% is the highest of any major world economy and its “bound tariff rates”, or the highest rate that can be charged, on agricultural products ranged from 113.5% to 300%.

Ross referred to Trump’s vision of a free, open and prosperous Indo-Pacific and said India is key to the US administration’s approach to the region.

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Sensex spirals to record high in early trade on the back of exit polls

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The benchmark BSE Sensex jumped over 200 points to hit a record intra-day high of 39,565.82 as investors’ euphoria over exit poll outcome continued in early session on Tuesday.

The 30-share index was trading 205.24 points, or 0.52 per cent, higher at 39,557.91. In similar movement, the broader NSE Nifty rose 48.90 points, or 0.41 per cent, to 11,877.15.

In the previous session, the Sensex ended 1,421.90 points, or 3.75 per cent, higher at 39,352.67, and the Nifty soared 421.10 points, or 3.69 per cent, to 11,828.25.

Top gainers in the Sensex pack in morning trade include HDFC twins, Bajaj Finance, Coal India, RIL, Bajaj Auto, HUL, IndusInd Bank, Sun Pharma, Vedanta, Axis Bank and Asian Paints, rising up to 2.21 per cent.

On the other hand, Tata Motors, Yes Bank, Bharti Airtel, Tata Steel, SBI, Infosys, ONGC and TCS fell up to 3.18 per cent.

“Market has given a thumbs-up to exit poll numbers. Sentiments have turned around drastically and the benchmark indices can gain 5-8 per cent more from here over the next few weeks if the final election outcome is in line or even better than exit polls,” said Gaurav Dua, Senior VP, Head – Strategy and Investments, Sharekhan by BNP Paribas.Most exit polls forecast another term for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The results of the seven-phase polls will come out Thursday.

Meanwhile, market regulator Sebi and stock exchanges have beefed up their surveillance mechanism to check any manipulative activities in the market this week in view of the high-octane election related events lined up.

Foreign institutional investors bought equity worth Rs 1,734.45 crore on Monday, while domestic institutional investors sold shares to the tune of Rs 542.71 crore, provisional data available with stock exchanges showed.

Elsewhere in Asia, bourses in China, Japan and Korea were trading on a mixed note in their respective early sessions.

Benchmarks on Wall Street ended in the red on Monday.

On the currency front, the rupee appreciated marginally to 69.71 against the US dollar in opening trade Tuesday.

Brent crude, the global benchmark, was trading at 72.20 per barrel, higher by 0.32 per cent. PTI ANS ANS

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In Chanda Kochhar case, ED probe points to conflict of interest

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An Enforcement Directorate (ED) investigation has revealed that former ICICI Bank managing director and CEO, Chanda Kochhar, already held shares in a private company, Credit Finance Limited (CFL), along with her family members and the Videocon Group when she became the executive director of the bank in April 2001 — a significant conflict of interest. It isn’t clear whether this was disclosed to ICICI Bank when Kochhar was named on the board or, indeed, to the Reserve Bank of India when she became CEO.

HT has reviewed a copy of an internal ED report, which states that CFL was held jointly by Chanda Kochhar and family (60% of shares) and Videocon (24.7% shares) since 2000-01. “She became executive director (of ICICI) in April 2001 and also held share of CFL along with other shareholders of the Kochhar group. Her husband Deepak Kochhar was the managing director of CFL till 2009,” the report said.

It is this company — earlier named Credential Finance Limited (incorporated in 1992), which was later merged into Bloomfield Builders and Construction Ltd in 1996 and renamed as Credit Finance Limited (CFL) — which bought Flat number 45, CCI Chambers in 1996 and later mortgaged it to Videocon International Limited. The Kochhars lived in this flat since 1997. In fact, ED adds in its report that when CFL defaulted a loan from SBI Home Finance, it was repaid by Videocon.

ED and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) started looking into a possible quid pro quo between Chanda Kochhar and the Videocon Group based on a whistleblower’s complaint that ICICI Bank loaned money to Videocon in return for Videocon Group chairman, Venugopal Dhoot, investing in Deepak Kochhar’s company. The bank initially cleared Chanda Kochhar of any wrongdoing based on an internal report, but as the investigation deepened, had to ask her to step down.

The ED report terms transactions related to this flat and parties involved in it as “unclean” and “in collusion”.

“The transactions relating to the sale and purchase of this apartment to the individuals and CFL and subsequent settlement among the conspirators i.e. CFL and QTAPL (Quality Techno Advisors Pvt Ltd, a Videocon company which had acquired the apartment, which was 100% acquired by a trust of Chanda Kochhar) are subject matter of thorough probe because parties of both sides in holding the title of apartment are unclean and in collusion also”, the ED report added.

The report further claimed that during her term as the MD-CEO of ICICI Bank from 2009 till 2018, Chanda Kochhar “is alleged to have not disclosed the directorship details of her husband to ICICI Bank), as per the norms under Banking rules”.

Her lawyer, Vijay Aggarwal, declined to comment. ICICI Bank did not respond to an e-mail from HT.

According to Section 184 of the Companies Act, every director of a company (both private and public) should disclose their interest or concern in a third party. Kochhar not disclosing the shares held by her in CFL is also against Reserve Bank of India (RBI) guidelines, two banking experts said.

An ED officer who spoke on condition of anonymity said: “Chanda Kochhar didn’t inform the ICICI bank about her shareholding, her husband’s business interests and their connection with Videocon while she continued to be on several sanctioning committees of the bank which approved loans for the Videocon group companies.”

As first reported by HT, ED has expanded its probe against Kochhars and Videocon group in total 24 loans worth Rs 7,862 crore.

The ED has listed 24 companies which were or are run by the Kochhar group.

Chanda and Deepak Kochhar were questioned for the fifth day on Friday.

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SBI writes off loans worth Rs 1 lakh crore in the last two years

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State Bank of India (SBI), the country’s largest lender by assets, has written off over Rs 1 lakh crore worth of loans in the two years ended March 31, as it purged its accounts of legacy bad loans.

It wrote off Rs 61,663 crore in the year ended March 31 and an additional Rs 40,809 crore in the previous fiscal year, taking the aggregate to Rs 1.02 lakh crore. This is close to double the Rs 57,646 crore that the lender wrote off in the preceding three financial years.

With a big chunk of bad loans written off in FY19, SBI’s outstanding gross non-performing assets (NPAs) declined 23% year-on-year (y-o-y) to Rs 1.72 lakh crore.

Meanwhile, SBI’s loan recoveries and loan upgrades (accounts which resumed paying interest) touched Rs 31,512 crore in FY19. To be sure, keeping pace with the increasing write-off, the bank’s recovery and upgrades have also increased during the same period.

While it recovered and upgraded Rs28,632 crore loans in the three years ended March 31, 2017, in the past two years, SBI could get back Rs45,429 crore.

It is important to note that banks write off bad loans once it becomes unviable to recover them. Banks have to ensure they fully provide for these loans before they are written off.

However, the provision requirements do not arise suddenly since lenders have to constantly increase provisions on bad loans as they age, under the central bank’s Income Recognition and Asset Classification (IRAC) norms.

That apart, banks recover from written-off loans and these recoveries help shore up their other income.

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) defines technical or prudential write-off as the amount of non-performing loans which are outstanding in the books of the branches, but have been written off (fully or partially) at the head-office level.

Last Friday, after announcing the bank’s FY19 results, SBI chairman Rajnish Kumar said that while the bank calls it a write-off, it is only an accounting practice.

“We have several times clarified that it is just a movement to advances under collection account (AUCA) and the follow-up is with the same intensity. So, it is an accounting entry, nothing else,” said Kumar.

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