September 22, 2017 / 2:44 PM / a year ago

RBI eases foreign investment rules for corporate debt

MUMBAI (Reuters) - The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) on Friday eased rules governing foreign investment in corporate bonds by excluding rupee-denominated securities from its overall debt limit.

A man checks his phone outside the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) headquarters in Mumbai, June 7, 2017. REUTERS/Shailesh Andrade/Files

The move potentially freed up 440 billion rupees ($6.79 billion) of debt available to offshore investors.

Access to the corporate bonds by foreign investors will be phased in over the next two quarters — 270 billion rupees during October-December and 170 billion rupees in January-March, the Reserve Bank of India said in a circular.

Rupee-denominated bonds — more widely known as masala bonds — will now come under rules for external commercial borrowings and issuers will have to take prior permission from the RBI to raise the paper.

Earlier these masala bonds used to be classified under the foreign portfolio investment limit for corporate bonds that stands at 2.44 trillion rupees. This total limit has been fully taken up following massive foreign inflows.

So far this year India has attracted $23.7 billion in debt investment and $6.08 billion in equity purchases, helping the rupee rise 4.8 percent.

“It is in a way further liberalisation for foreign investors,” said one official, adding that India’s external debt is in comfortable shape.

India’s total external debt stood at $471.9 billion as of the end of March, of which external commercial borrowings stood at $124.5 billion, according to the RBI data.

Interest in Indian debt has been very steep among foreign investors. This is seen from the high cut-off fees they paid to buy the marginal limits available under corporate debt on Friday.

The cut-off stood at 50.01 basis points for 22.29 billion rupees of auction on Friday, compared with 15.25 bps a month back.

The RBI also said that some 95 billion rupees of debt will be available every quarter to long-term foreign investors such as sovereign wealth funds, foreign central banks, insurance funds for investment in infrastructure sector bonds.

($1 = 64.7900 Indian rupees)

Reporting by Suvashree Dey Choudhury Editing by Jeremy Gaunt

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