India plans $1b masala bond sale

NEW DELHI • India plans to sell as much as 50 billion rupees (S$1.04 billion) of offshore rupee bonds in London and Singapore and use the proceeds to accelerate construction of roads and ports in Asia's third-largest economy.

State-owned National Highways Authority of India will raise the funds, Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari said, adding that the masala bonds are expected to be priced at 7.25 per cent.

The sale, which will be done in phases, will be the largest such issuance by a state-run firm since NTPC, the nation's biggest power producer, raised 20 billion rupees in August.

Mr Gadkari is betting that cheaper overseas funds will help the government meet his target of building 42km of roads a day in the nation that stands below Namibia and Azerbaijan in the World Economic Forum's infrastructure ranking.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's administration, which faces crucial elections across several states next year, aims to spend as much as US$14.5 billion (S$20 billion) in the year to March on expanding India's network of roads and ports, amid slowing private investment.

"In India, interest costs are very high," Mr Gadkari said in an interview in Bloomberg's Mumbai office. Interest rates charged for infrastructure projects elsewhere in the world are as low as 2 to 3 per cent, he said.

The road-building authority, or NHAI, sent requests for proposals to potential arrangers in June for a planned masala bond issuance, people familiar with the matter said back then.

Indian banks, burdened by about US$120 billion in stressed assets in infrastructure, lend at rates as high as 11 per cent, forcing borrowers to look overseas for cheaper funds, according to the minister.

Housing Development Finance Corp has raised 50 billion rupees via masala issuance till date, the most from any issuer so far, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

India's biggest mortgage lender opened the market for local companies in July with a 30 billion rupee sale of masala notes.

The government may revamp NHAI as part of its plans to accelerate execution of infrastructure projects, Mr Gadkari said.

Bureaucracy in the 28-year-old company, which is responsible for implementing the administration's highway-development programme, has often delayed decisions on several key road projects, he said.

The minister said he was looking to restructure the organisation to expedite decision making as well as remove unnecessary hierarchy.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 09, 2016, with the headline 'India plans $1b masala bond sale'. Print Edition | Subscribe