Asia

India’s Economy Faces Severe Challenges

India’s economy is experiencing a sharp slowdown — to the consternation of many observers. For several years, analysts and organisations such as the IMF and World Bank have touted India as the fastest-growing major economy, with the world’s brightest medium-term outlook, the Financial Times reported in a commentary. But in December the Reserve Bank of India, the central bank, cut its forecast for 2019 growth in gross domestic product to 5 per cent. That headline figure actually understates the slowdown.

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A port operator in northeastern China once at the center of U.N. sanctions on North Korea is finding itself in another storm, Bloomberg News reported. Dandong Port Group Co. has regained attention after a controversial court ruling in favor of a state-led debt overhaul that forces steep losses on creditors and drew shareholders’ complaints about an opaque bankruptcy process. The court verdict also runs counter to an unprecedented roadmap that Beijing has just laid out to restore investor confidence via fair handling of bond defaults.

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Bondholders of Reliance Home Finance Ltd. have petitioned India’s National Company Law Tribunal to recover 35 billion rupees ($495 million) after the firm missed payments, Economic Times reported citing a copy of the application, Bloomberg News reported. IDBI Trusteeship, which represents the bondholders, wants the tribunal to seize Reliance Home Finance’s assets and bar the company from agreeing to any debt resolution deal with other lenders. The petition was under the Companies Act and a bankruptcy application is “not actively under consideration for now,” according to the report.

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China’s offshore corporate bond defaults rose to $3.6 billion in 2019, up from $3.3 billion the year before, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Tewoo’s dollar bonds were restructured with some investors agreeing to be paid just 37 to 67 cents on the dollar, depending on the maturity of the debt, Bloomberg News reported. China Minsheng Investment Group’s $300 million bond was paid by a Chinese bank guarantor. The company unveiled a plan to repay its $500 million note in October.

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Local government shell companies in China bought into struggling privately run listed firms for the first time last year, veering from their typical remit of financing infrastructure projects to pump over $2 billion into cash-strapped businesses, Reuters reported. Local government financing vehicles (LGFVs) acquired controlling or near-dominant stakes in 11 China-listed firms, showed Reuters calculations based on stock exchange filings. They also bought into a handful of small, capital-starved banks.

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China’s record boom in debt issuance abroad in recent years has left a sour after-taste for bondholders: missed payments on billions of dollars worth of securities. In what’s now become a new normal for the $815 billion-plus Chinese offshore-debt market, at least seven borrowers defaulted in 2019, Bloomberg News reported. About $3.6 billion of bonds went into default last year, up from $3.3 billion the year before, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The 2019 tally spanned a state-owned commodity trader to a onetime Coca-Cola Co. acquisition target.

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It’s the last thing India’s stricken credit markets need: a record debt bill. Companies must repay an unprecedented 5.9 trillion rupees ($83 billion) of local notes this year, just as corporate defaults spike, Bloomberg News reported. Many firms are already struggling after economic growth slumped to its weakest since 2009. That’s putting India behind China, Indonesia and a few others in the region. Credit market scares have impeded Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s efforts to revive growth.

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India’s shadow banks, which lend to everyone from teashop merchants to property tycoons, get a mixed bill of health in Bloomberg’s latest check, Bloomberg News reported. The sector has been stung by a crisis set off by the shock collapse of non-bank lender IL&FS group in 2018. There’ve been even more setbacks in recent weeks: Altico Capital India Ltd., a real estate-focused lender, has seen some potential rescuers demur. Revitalization of the industry, whose woes mounted last year when major mortgage lender Dewan Housing Finance Corp.

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When China’s bond issuers run into trouble, investors face an increasingly tough task in extracting any returns, the Financial Times reported. Bond defaults across the world’s second-biggest economy are rising, with more borrowers failing either to repay creditors’ initial investments, or make regular interest payments. Typically, some investors can find a way to hold on to so-called distressed debt and recover scraps of cash. Specialist investors also buy this debt on the cheap, in what can be a lucrative if risky strategy. Now, though, returns are shrinking.

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