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L&T Infra Finance looks to offer renewable energy project finance

According to reports, L&T Infrastructure Finance Co. Ltd will venture into non-infrastructure segments and offer working capital loans as it transforms into the role of a wholesale lender, chief executive G. Krishnamurthy said.

The company is promoted by L&T Finance Holdings Ltd, a subsidiary of Larsen & Toubro Ltd, India’s largest engineering company. “We are not an infrastructure project financing company any more; we are now the wholesale lending arm of L&T Finance Holdings,” Krishnamurthy said. While he did not specify the non-infrastructure sectors L&T Infra would be lending to, Krishnamurthy said cement, steel, mining and real estate are the possibilities. L&T Infra currently provides project finance through corporate loans as well as a mix of equity and debt funding through instruments like senior debt and mezzanine debt.

Out of its total portfolio of Rs.17,598 crore as of March, 64% was in project financing, while the rest was corporate loans. The company launched L&T IDF, an infrastructure debt fund (IDF) in October. It primarily refinances operational road projects in public-private partnerships (PPPs). In the last couple of years, the opportunity in refinancing has grown, according to Krishnamurthy. For IDFs—which can only refinance road projects authorized by the National Highways Authority of India—the potential market size is around Rs.10,000 crore, he added. Krishnamurthy expects other asset classes like airports and ports to be added as refinancing opportunities through the IDF soon. A pick-up on project activity could lead to more demand for refinancing. Projects worth Rs.50,000 crore have been cleared since the new government took charge, which could spur greater demand for capital.

With banks already burdened with large restructured loans and non-performing assets (NPAs) from the infrastructure sector, some of this demand may come to non-banking finance players like L&T Infra. As of 31 March, infrastructure loans worth Rs.57,233 crore were under corporate debt restructuring (CDR). This accounts for around 20% of all loans under CDR. “Refinancing has a huge scope, specially with projects that have reached a significant completion stage, but the important thing for lenders is to be able to offer lower cost of financing,” said Vishwas Udgirkar, senior director, infrastructure at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Pvt. Ltd.

To be sure, even other players like IDFC Ltd are betting on infrastructure financing, including refinance. At present, 90% of IDFC’s Rs.59,829 crore loan book comprises infrastructure loans to corporations. IDFC wants to focus on what it does best—infrastructure lending—“especially as sentiment is reviving and growth is coming back”, according to Vikram Limaye, chief executive officer (CEO) and managing director, IDFC. L&T Infra will also consider adding working capital loans to its offerings, taking into consideration the growing need for funds from corporates. Working capital finance is capital used by a company in its day-to-day trading operations.

According to Smita Rajpurkar, assistant general manager at Care Ratings, working capital finance is generally required in projects where the contractor does not receive any mobilization advances. “Working capital finance is also used for day-to-day operations by construction contractors and not only in stress situations,” she added. Ashvin Parekh, managing partner at Ashvin Parekh Advisory Services LLP, who has advised more than 700 projects across 33 years with large firms in business strategy and capital expansion, said offering working capital is certainly going to pose a challenge to the company. “Positioning itself as a wholesale banking player and adding non-infrastructure verticals are not that difficult for the company. But offering working capital services looks challenging. However, it can borrow best practices from its parent company to overcome this challenge,” Parekh said. However, not all are convinced about the company’s entry into non-infrastructure sectors. G.S. Sundararajan, group director at the Shriram Group, said L&T Infra is better equipped to serve the infrastructure segment. “The market is having positive sentiments coupled with the revival in infrastructure segment. Ideally, L&T Infra should focus on its core sector to establish the early-mover advantage. And in that, it never goes wrong,” Sundararajan said. Meanwhile, to drive growth further, L&T Infra will also focus on the renewable energy sector for project financing. As of March 2014, 20% of its total disbursements of Rs.6,692 crore, went to the renewable energy sector. The company is bullish about solar projects in particular, as investments in the sector continue to increase at a stable pace. “As a company, we have created a niche focus in renewables,” said Krishnamurthy. “There is more exposure to solar and hydro projects rather than coal thermal projects in our portfolio,” he added. The company has been growing at 23-24% and expects to continue the pace of growth. It does not, however, give any guidance for revenue growth.

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