SEBI’s stringent norms for secured debentures

Will it lead to a paradigm shift to unsecured debentures?

Shaifali Sharma | Vinod Kothari and Company

corplaw@vinodkothari.com

Introduction

The debt market in India has seen significant growth over the years. Amongst the various debt instruments, debentures are one of the most widely used instruments for raising funds. In India, the regulatory framework for debt instruments is governed by multiple regulators through multiple regulations. As far as secured debentures are concerned, more stringent provisions have been prescribed by the respective regulators to protect the interest of investors. In theory, it seems that hard earned money invested by the investors in secured debentures are safe and secured against the assets of the company. However, some major defaults witnessed by debt market in the recent years depict a different reality.

Absence of identified security, delay in payment due to debenture holders and other increased events of defaults witnessed in recent years, has encouraged SEBI to revise the regulatory framework in relation to secured debentures and Debenture Trustees and thereby SEBI vide its circular[1] dated November 03, 2020 (‘November 03 Circular’), has issued norms with respect to the security creation and due diligence of asset cover in furtherance to the recent amendment made in ILDS Regulations[2] and DT Regulations[3] w.e.f. October 8, 2020. Subsequently, on November 13, 2020, SEBI issued circular on Monitoring and Disclosures by Debenture Trustee[4], effective from quarter ended on December 31, 2020 for listed debt securities dealing with various issues namely monitoring of ‘security created’ / ‘assets on which charge is created’, action to be taken in case of breach of covenants or terms of issue, disclosure on website by Debenture Trustee and reporting of regulatory compliance.

The revised framework may pose challenges for corporates to raise fund through secured debentures and may leave them relying on unsecured debentures. In this article we shall discuss and analyse the impact and consequences of these stricter norms on companies and the way forward.

Current Scenario of Corporate Bond Market in India

The RBI Bulletin January, 2019[5] provides that the “total resource mobilisation by Indian corporates through public/private/rights issues is dominated by debt while equity accounts for close to 38%”.

In India, the corporate bond market is dominated by private placements, a graphical trend comparing corporate debt issuance under two routes i.e. public issue and private placement has been given below (‘table 1’). As per the latest data available with SEBI, the total amount raised through corporate bonds by way of private placement has increased from 4,58,073 crores to 6,74,702 crores in the last 5 years.

Table on amount raised through public and private placement issuances of Corporate Bonds in Indian Debt Market (Listed Securities)

Financial Year No. of Public Issues Total amount raised through Public Issue (in crores) No. of Private Placement (in crores) Total amount raised through Private Placement (in crores)
2015-16 20 33811.92 2975 458073.48
2016-17 16 29547.15 3377 640715.51
2017-18 7 4953.05 2706 599147.08
2018-19 25 36679.36 2358 610317.61
2019-20 34 14984.02 1787 674702.88
2020-21 (till Oct) 5 881.82 1157 442526

 

Source: Compiled from data available at SEBI’s website[6]

Table 1: Corporate Debt Issuance under Private Placement and Public Issue

As regards the concentration of secured borrowing in comparison to the unsecured borrowing in private placement market, the RBI Bulletin January 2019 further provides that ‘secured lending accounted for close to half of the total amount raised even in the private placement market of corporate debt’. The same may be understood from a graphical presentation below:

Source: RBI Bulletin January 2019

This includes secured and unsecured borrowing raised in the private placement market of corporate debt

As also noted by SEBI in its consolidation paper[7] dated February 25, 2020, in last 5 Financial Years the bond issuances were largely secured (approximately 76%).

Therefore, the above figures indicate that the volume of corporate bonds, particularly in private placement market, is higher in secured borrowings.

Regulatory Framework for issuing Secured Debentures

SEBI’s stringent norms for issuance of secured debentures

A company may issue secured debentures after complying with the extensive provisions as prescribed under the Companies Act, 2013 and SEBI Regulations. Further SEBI, in view of the increased events of defaults, challenges in relation to creation of charge, enforcement of security, Inter-Creditor Agreement process and other related issues, has reviewed the regulatory framework for Corporate Bond and Debenture Trustee and revisited the manner of issue of secured debentures by introducing amendments in DT Regulations[8], ILDS Regulations[9] and Listing Regulations[10] w.e.f October 08, 2020.

In furtherance to the above amendments made in ILDS Regulations and DT Regulations, SEBI vide November 03 Circular issued norms applicable to secured debentures intended to be issued and listed on or after January 01, 2021.

While the amended provisions aim to secure the interest of debenture holders, the same has raised compliance burden on issuer of secured debentures and thereby corporates may be inclined towards unsecured borrowing facilities due to following reasons:

  1. Creation of Recovery Expense Fund (REF)

Issuers shall create a Recovery Expense Fund (‘REF’) towards the recovery of proceeding expenses in case of default. The manner of creation, operation and utilization of Fund is prescribed by SEBI vide circular[11] dated October 22, 2020. It requires the Issuer to deposit 0.1% of the issue subject to a maximum of 25 lakhs per issuer. This means that all issuers with an issue size above of 250 crores will be required to deposit 25 lakhs to the REF irrespective of the amount.

All the applications for listing of debt securities made on or after January 01, 2021 shall comply with the condition of creation of REF and the existing issuers whose debt securities are already listed on Stock Exchange(s) shall be given additional time period of 90 days to comply with creation of REF.

This fund is in addition to the requirement of creation of Debenture Redemption Reserve and Debenture Redemption Fund and therefore would entails additional compliance cost to the issuer.

  1. Due diligence by Debenture Trustee for creation of security

The Debenture Trustee is required to assess that the assets for creation of security are adequate for the proposed issue of debt securities. However, there is no clarity on who is to bear the cost of due diligence. In case the same is to be borne by the issuer, the issue expense will unnecessarily increase.

In case of creation of further charge on assets, the Debenture Trustee shall intimate the existing charge holders via email about the proposal to create further charge on assets by issuer seeking their comments/ objections, if any, to be communicated to the Debenture Trustee within next 5 working days.

In cases where issuers have common Debenture Trustee for all issuances and the charge is created in favour of Debenture Trustee, the requirement seems impracticable.

  1. Creation of security and strict time frame of listing debentures through private placement

The November 03 Circular mandates creation of charge and execution of Debenture Trust Deed with the Debenture Trustee before making the application for listing of debentures.

SEBI vide its circular[12] dated October 5, 2020, effective for issuance made on or after December 1, 2020, requires the listing of private placement to be completed within 4 trading days from the closure of the issue. Where the issuer fails to do so, he will not be able to utilize issue proceeds of its subsequent two privately placed issuance until final listing approval is received from stock exchanges and will also be liable to penalty as may be prescribed.

In such scenario, it would be arduous for issuers and Debenture Trustee to comply with the procedural requirements in such stringent timelines.

  1. Entering into Inter-Creditor Agreement (ICA)

An ICA is an agreement between all lenders of a borrower through which lenders collectively initiate the process of implementing a Resolution Plan as per RBI guidelines in case of default. These provisions are applicable to Scheduled Commercial Banks, All India Term Financial Institutions like NABARD, SIDBI etc., small finance banks and NBFC-D. Trustees may join the ICA subject to the approval of debenture holders and conditions prescribed. Debenture Trustee may subject to the approval of debenture holders enter into ICA as per the RBI framework.

  • While the ICA is entered with the approval of debenture holders, however, the debenture holders may not be familiar of the concept of ICA and consequences, positive / negative, of joining ICA resulting into uninformed decision.
  • RBI guidelines on ICA applies to institutional entities and it does not provide any rights for debenture holders.
  • While the Debenture Trustee is free to exit the ICA, it will be challenging to exit ICA and enforce security in case of pari-passu charge.

In addition to the reasons stated above, other stringent compliances as introduced by the SEBI may impose burden and encourage corporates to give a second thought on shifting to unsecured debentures.

Should issuers move towards unsecured debt raising?

While the amendments focus on secured debentures, yet one of the major points in the SEBI Consultation Paper was creation of an ‘identified charge’ on assets. The proposal was in the light of the fact that in case of issuers like NBFCs, the debentures are secured by way of floating charge on receivables. Now, as is known, floating charges are enterprise-wide charges hovering on general assets of the company, unlike fixed charges. Floating charges are subservient to fixed charges. Further, the extant provisions of the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code are not clear on the treatment of floating charges vis-à-vis unsecured debt. Hence, the prevalence of floating charges on receivables is not of much relevance in the case of issuers like NBFCs. Therefore, ‘secured’ debentures, might actually be an illusion and may have no concrete effect. Hence, with more stringent conditions coming in, it might actually be a motivation to the issuers to move to unsecured debentures.

Fund raising via unsecured debentures and applicability of Deposit Rules

Given the stringent regulatory framework for issuance and listing of secured debentures as discussed above, corporates may start looking for other sources of raising funds, including unsecured debt issuances. In case of issue of unsecured debentures, one has to see the applicability of the Companies (Acceptance of Deposits) Rules, 2014 (‘Deposits Rules’) or Non-Banking Financial Companies Acceptance of Public Deposits (Reserve Bank) Directions, 2016[13] (‘NBFC Deposit Directions’), in case of NBFCs, in this regard.

Applicability of Deposit Rules / NBFC Deposit Directions for issuance of unsecured debentures

Applicability Whether deposits?
Secured debentures Unsecured debentures

 

For Companies

 

(on which Deposits Rules apply)

Secured debentures shall not be considered as deposits

Explanation:

Definition of ‘deposit’ under Rule 2 (1)(c)(ix) of the Companies (Acceptance of Deposits) Rules, 2014 excludes debentures which are secured by first charge or a charge ranking pari passu with the first charge on any assets referred to in Schedule III of the Companies Act, 2013 excluding intangible assets of the company or bonds or debentures compulsorily convertible into shares of the company within ten years.

Further, if such bonds or debentures are secured by the charge of any assets referred to in Schedule III of the Act, excluding intangible assets, the amount of such bonds or debentures cannot exceed the market value of such assets as assessed by a registered valuer.

Unsecured debentures shall be considered as deposits, unless listed on any recognized Stock Exchange.

Explanation:

Amount raised by issue of unsecured non-convertible debentures listed on a recognised stock exchange as per applicable regulations made by SEBI shall not be considered as deposits since exempted under Rule 2(1)(c)(ixa) of the Companies (Acceptance of Deposits) Rules, 2014.

For NBFCs

 

(on which NBFC Deposits Directions apply)

Secured debentures shall not be considered as public deposits

Explanation:

As per the definition of ‘public deposit’ under para 3(xiii)(f)  of the Master Direction – Non-Banking Financial Companies Acceptance of Public Deposits (Reserve Bank) Directions, 2016, any amount raised by the issue of bonds or debentures secured by the mortgage of any immovable property of the company; or by any other asset or which would be compulsorily convertible into equity in the company provided that in the case of such bonds or debentures secured by the mortgage of any immovable property or secured by other assets, the amount of such bonds or debentures shall not exceed the market value of such immovable property/other assets;

Unsecured debentures shall be considered as public deposits, except in case of issuance of non-convertible debentures with a maturity more than one year and having the minimum subscription per investor at Rs.1 crore and above

Explanation:

As per para 3(xiii)(fa) of said Master Directions, any amount raised by issuance of non-convertible debentures with a maturity more than one year and having the minimum subscription per investor at Rs.1 crore and above, provided that such debentures have been issued in accordance with the guidelines issued by the Bank as in force from time to time in respect of such non-convertible debentures shall not be treated as public deposits.

Thus, the debentures will either have to be secured, or will have to be listed in order to avail exemption from the Deposit Rules/ NBFC Deposit Directions.

Compliance Corner: How different is unsecured from secured debentures?

A brief comparison of the requirements of issuance of secured and unsecured debentures is summarized below:

Sr. No. Basis of Comparison Section/ Rule Secured Debentures Unsecured Debentures
1. Creation of security Section 71(3) of the Companies Act, 2013 read with Rule 18 of Companies (Share Capital and Debentures) Rules, 2014 (‘Debenture Rules, 2014’) Secured by the creation of a charge on the properties or assets of the company or its subsidiaries or its holding company or its associates companies, having a value which is sufficient for the due repayment of the amount of debentures and interest thereon.

 

Charge or mortgage shall be created in favour of the debenture trustee on:

  • any specific movable property of the company or its holding company or subsidiaries or associate companies or otherwise;
  • or any specific immovable property wherever situate, or any interest therein;
  • in case of a NBFCs, the charge or mortgage may be created on any movable property
No security created.
2. Registration of charge Section 77 of the Companies Act, 2013 Issuer shall register the charge within 30 days of its creation/ modification or such additional period as may be prescribed. Not Applicable
3. Redemption Period Rule 18(1)(a) of Debentures Rules, 2014 To be redeem within 10 years from the date of issue

Companies engaged in setting up infrastructure projects, infrastructure finance companies, infrastructure debt fund NBFCs and companies permitted by the CG, RBI or any other statutory authority may issue for a period exceeding 10 years but not exceeding 30 years.

No redemption time frame prescribed for unsecured debentures.
4. Voting Rights Section 71(2) the Companies Act, 2013 Does not carry voting rights Does not carry voting rights
5. Creation of Debenture Redemption Reserve (DRR) Section 71(4) read with Rule 18(7) of Debentures Rules, 2014 DRR/DRF requirement does not depend whether debentures are secured or unsecured, rather it depends on the type of company and the mode of issue i.e. public issue or private placement. Subject to same provisions

 

6. Appointment of Debenture Trustee Section 71(5) read with Rule 18(1)(c), (2) of Debenture Rules, 2014 Required in case the offer or invitation is made to the public or if the total number of members exceeds 500 for the subscription of debentures [Section 71(5)].

ILDS requires appointment of DT in case of every listed debentures.

Subject to same provisions
7. Duties of Debenture Trustee Section 71(6) read with Rule 18(3) & (4) of the Debenture Rules, 2014, SEBI (ILDS) Regulations, 2008 and SEBI (DT) Regulations, 1993 In accordance with provisions of Section 71(6) read with Rule 18(3) & (4) of the Debenture Rules, 2014

Other obligations as prescribed under SEBI (ILDS) Regulations, 2008 and SEBI (DT) Regulations, 1993

Subject to same provisions
8. Failure to redeem or pay interest on debentures Section 71(10), 164(2) of the Companies Act, 2013
  • In case of failure by the company to redeem the debentures on the date of their maturity or pay interest on the debentures when it is due, an application may be made by any or all of the debenture-holders, or debenture trustee to the Tribunal. The Tribunal can direct the company to redeem the debentures forthwith on payment of principal and interest due thereon.
  • If a company fails to pay interest on debentures, or redeem the same, and the failure continues for one year or more, all the directors of such delinquent company become disqualified.
Subject to same provisions
9. Listing of Debentures SEBI (ILDS) Regulations, 2008, SEBI (LODR) Regulations, 2015 Issuer to comply with the provisions of SEBI (ILDS) Regulations, 2008. Post listing, the issuer, in addition to SEBI (ILDS) Regulations, 2008, shall also comply with provisions of SEBI (LODR) Regulations, 2015 and SEBI (Prohibition of Insider Trading) Regulations, 2015. Subject to same provisions

Neither the Companies Act, 2013 nor the Debenture Rules, 2014 elaborate the manner of issue of unsecured debentures. However, the provisions for issue of unsecured debentures are almost the same as that for secured debentures except certain conditions such as redemption period, requirement of creation of charge on the assets of the issuer and filing charge with the Registrar of Companies.

Investors perspective may also prove the same stand –the unsecured debentures don’t carry securities against any assets of the company unlike in case of secured debenture, however the debenture-holder(s) or the Debenture Trustee may approach the Tribunal which may then direct the company to honour its debt obligations.

Concluding Remarks

From the issuer’s perspective, the debentures have to be secured so as to escape from the Deposit Rules. This is one of the main reasons why companies issue secured debentures.  While the issuer may be able to avoid the rigorous compliances of Deposits Rules, issuing secured debentures have apparently become very stringent.

From investor’s viewpoint, it may seem that the investment in secured debentures is safe as company has created charge on its assets sufficient to discharge the principle and interest amount. Yet some major defaults in past have made the investors more hesitant to invest in the secured debentures.

While at this stage it was important for SEBI to make the norms more stringent to safeguard the interest of the debenture holders, however, it will be challenging for the issuers to comply with such norms, failing which they may be inclined towards issuance of unsecured debt issuances.

Although unsecured debentures do not provide any security against investment, issuer may still rewards investors with higher yields which is a pay-off for increased risk taken by the investor.

Given the new compliance burden and their stringencies for issuance and listing of secured debentures, it will be interesting to see how the ratio of secured and unsecured borrowings changes in the coming years. For the sake of it, the upcoming trends, preferences and acceptability of stringencies by the corporates will be very vital for observation.

Other reading materials on the similar topic:

  1. ‘This New Year brings more complexity to bond issuance as SEBI makes it cumbersome’ can be viewed here
  2. ‘SEBI responds to payment defaults by empowering Debenture Trustees’ can be read here
  3. Our other articles on various topics can be read at: http://vinodkothari.com/

Email id for further queries: corplaw@vinodkothari.com

Our website: www.vinodkothari.com

Our Youtube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCgzB-ZviIMcuA_1uv6jATbg

[1] https://www.sebi.gov.in/legal/circulars/nov-2020/creation-of-security-in-issuance-of-listed-debt-securities-and-due-diligence-by-debenture-trustee-s-_48074.html

[2] SEBI (Issue and Listing of Debt Securities) Regulations, 2008

[3] SEBI (Debenture Trustees) Regulations, 1993

[4] https://www.sebi.gov.in/legal/circulars/nov-2020/monitoring-and-disclosures-by-debenture-trustee-s-_48159.html

[5] https://rbidocs.rbi.org.in/rdocs/Bulletin/PDFs/2ICBMIMM141CFFF458BB4B3A9F4C006F4AE4897F.PDF

[6] https://www.sebi.gov.in/statistics/corporate-bonds/privateplacementdata.html

[7] https://www.sebi.gov.in/reports-and-statistics/reports/feb-2020/consultation-paper-on-review-of-the-regulatory-framework-for-corporate-bonds-and-debenture-trustees_46079.html

[8] http://egazette.nic.in/WriteReadData/2020/222323.pdf

[9] http://egazette.nic.in/WriteReadData/2020/222324.pdf

[10] SEBI (Listing Obligations and Disclosure Requirements) Regulations, 2015

[11] https://www.sebi.gov.in/legal/circulars/oct-2020/contribution-by-issuers-of-listed-or-proposed-to-be-listed-debt-securities-towards-creation-of-recovery-expense-fund-_47939.html

[12] https://www.sebi.gov.in/legal/circulars/oct-2020/standardization-of-timeline-for-listing-of-securities-issued-on-a-private-placement-basis_47790.html

[13] https://www.rbi.org.in/Scripts/NotificationUser.aspx?Id=10563&Mode=0#C2

This New Year brings more complexity to bond issuance as SEBI makes it cumbersome for DTs and Issuers

Due diligence, consents/NOC, Charge creation before listing coupled with mandatory listing deadline may be daunting compliance

FCS Vinita Nair | Senior Partner, Vinod Kothari & Company

When the going gets tough, the tough gets going; however, this may not hold good for issuers and debenture trustees (DT) in case of secured debentures intended to be issued and listed on or after January 1, 2021. SEBI, vide Circular dated November 3, 2020[1] (‘November 3 Circular’), has rolled out norms on several aspects of security creation and due diligence of asset cover in furtherance to the recent amendment made in ILDS Regulations[2] and DT Regulations[3] w.e.f. October 8, 2020. Among other things, the November 3 Circular requires creation of security interest before listing, and if one combines it with the standardization of timeline for listing of securities issued on private placement basis (effective from December 1, 2020) which requires application for listing to be made within 4 trading days of closure of issue, issuers will be fighting for breath in making listing applications on allotment. Additionally, DTs have been loaded with the responsibility of giving two certifications giving their affirmation of due diligence, mainly dealing with security cover creation and maintenance. One forms part of the disclosure document, another is to be submitted along with the listing application.

The inspiration for the changes is not difficult to understand – some of the recent defaults with financial sector issuers saw violations of asset cover norms and potential overlaps in assets for multiple issuances. However, it will be curious to see whether the revised norms will be easy to comply, given the fact that most of the issuances in India are from the financial sector, and the assets in all such cases are a fluid pool of receivables.

The November Circular deals with following:

  1. Documents/ Consents required at the time of entering into DT agreement;
  2. Due diligence by DT for creation of security;
  3. Disclosures in the offer document (OD) or Private Placement Memorandum (PPM)/ Information Memorandum (IM) and filing of OD or PPM/ IM by the Issuer
  4. Creation and registration of charge in relation to security by Issuer.

Thereafter, on November 13, 2020 SEBI issued circular on Monitoring and Disclosures by DT[4] (November 12 Circular) that is effective from quarter ended on December 31, 2020 for listed debt securities. The November 12 Circular deals with following:

  1. Monitoring of ‘security created’ / ‘assets on which charge is created’;
  2. Action to be taken in case of breach of covenants or terms of issue;
  3. Disclosure on website by DT;
  4. Reporting of regulatory compliance

This article discusses the impact that the both the aforesaid circulars will have on issue of secured debentures. The November Circular is applicable in case of public issue as well as private placement of debt securities. Having said this, it is well known fact that the market in India is essentially a market for private placements, mostly bespoke, mostly secured on loans and receivables.

Information to be provided at the time of entering DT Agreement

DT Agreement is entered into by the issuer with the DT in accordance with Regulation 13 of DT Regulations before the opening of the subscription list for issue of debentures. The agreement mainly contains an undertaking in relation to compliance with applicable law for allotment till redemption of debentures and the time limit within which the security shall be created. However, the November 3 Circular mandates furnishing of following documents by the issuer at the time of entering into DT Agreement. Additionally, the terms and conditions with respect to exercising due diligence shall also be included in the debenture trustee agreement.

The detailed list to be furnished is given in Annexure 1. Basis the nature of security, the DT is required to submit details periodically to the stock exchange as per November 12 Circular. Certain critical issues are discussed hereunder.

  1. In case of security created on moveable/ immoveable property, the issuer is required to give copy of evidence of registration with Sub-registrar, Registrar of Companies, Central Registry of Securitization Asset Reconstruction and Security Interest (CERSAI) etc even prior to issuance of debentures. [Para 4.1 of November 3 Circular].
  2. Further, in case of encumbered assets, Consent/ No-objection certificate (NOC) from existing charge holders. [Para 4.3(b) of November 3 Circular]. In several cases, issuers have common DT for all issuances and the charge is created in favour of DT. There should be suitable carve out or exemption in those cases as the DT cannot be furnishing Consent/ NOC to itself.
  3. In case of negative lien created by issuer, Consent/NOC is required to be obtained from existing unsecured lenders [Para 4.3(c) of November 3 Circular]. By definition, if the creditor is unsecured, there is no question of the creditor having any right over any asset. Hence, the question of any consent of unsecured lenders does not arise. In case of negative lien, the issuer agrees to keep the agreed quantum of assets free from encumbrance, therefore, the requirement of seeking consent/NOC is not justified.
  4. In case of corporate guarantee, the guarantor is required to furnish audited financial statements (not older than 6 months from the date of debenture trustee agreement) giving details of all contingent liabilities [Para 4.3(c) of November 3 Circular]. The issuers intending to list debt securities are permitted to submit limited reviewed financial results and not necessarily audited financial statements. However, the guarantor is required to furnish latest audited financial statements.

Submission of periodic reports by DT to Stock Exchange (SE)

As per November 12 Circular, the DT is required to submit following to the SE for every issuer.

Periodicity Nature of submission Timeline Format Remarks
Quarterly
  • Asset Cover Certificate;
  • Statement of value of pledged securities;
  • Statement of value of Debt Service Reserve Account or any other form of security offered;
Within 60 days from end of each quarter Annexure A to November 12 Circular
  • Details of all outstanding issuance is to be furnished.
  • Asset cover details to be furnished ISIN wise for secured as well as unsecured debt securities.
  • Formula for computation of asset cover has been provided in Table I for secured debt and Table II for unsecured debt in November 12 Circular.
  • The DT will also confirm compliance on the covenants and terms of issue.
Half yearly Net worth certificate of guarantor (in case of personal guarantee) Within 60 days from end of each half year NA  
Annually
  • Financials/ value of guarantor prepared on basis of audited financial statement etc. of the guarantor (secured by way of corporate guarantee)
  • Valuation report and title search report for immoveable/ moveable assets, as applicable.
Within 75 days from end of each financial year. NA  

Enabling provision in DTD

As per November 12 Circular, the DT is required to incorporate the terms and conditions of periodical monitoring in the DTD pursuant to which the issuer will be liable to share information to enable DT to submit details to the stock exchange as provided in table above. For existing debt securities, issuers and DT shall enter into supplemental/amended debenture trust deed within 120 days from November 12 2020 incorporating the changes in the DTD.  In  case,  a  listed  entity  has  more  than  one  DT  for  its  listed  debt securities, then DTs may choose a common agency for preparation of asset cover certificate.

Due diligence by DT for creation of security

The due diligence may be carried out by the DTs by itself or through its advisers or experts. The DT, by itself or through its appointed agencies viz. chartered accountant firm, registered valuer, legal counsel etc., is required to prepare one or more reports viz. valuation report, ROC search report, title search report/ appraisal report, asset cover certificate, any other report/ certificate as applicable etc. The DT is also required to independently assess that the assets for creation of security are adequate for the proposed issue of debt securities. DTs are required to maintain records and documents pertaining to due diligence exercised for a minimum period of 5 years from redemption of the debt securities.

List of documents to be verified during due diligence and the format of due diligence certificate in given as Annexure 2. Certain issues in relation to the same is discussed hereunder:

  1. There is no clarity on who is to bear the cost of due diligence. If the same is to be borne by the issuer, the issue expense will increase. The issuer will be required to provide due diligence certificates obtained from DT, one at the time of filing the OD or PPM/IM and another at the time of filing the listing application.
  2. In case of creation of further charge on assets, the DT is required to intimate to existing charge holders via email about the proposal to create further charge on assets by Issuer seeking their comments/ objections, if any, to be communicated to the DT within next 5 working days. [Para 6.1 (b) (ii) of November 3 Circular]. Further, information about the consents is required to be furnished in the OD or PPM/IM.

In several cases, issuers have common DT for all issuances and the charge is created in favour of DT. There should be suitable carve out or exemption in those cases as the DT cannot be intimating and seeking its own comments/objections.

In case of private placement, where the issue opens, closes and debentures are allotted on same day, the process will have to be commenced much before opening of offer, given the requirement to wait for 5 working days.

Disclosure in OD or PPM/IM by issuer

The issuer is required to disclose following in the OD or PPM/IM:

  • “Debt securities shall be considered as secured only if the charged asset is registered with Sub-registrar and Registrar of Companies or CERSAI or Depository etc., as applicable, or is independently verifiable by the debenture trustee.”
  • Terms and conditions of DT agreement including fees charged by debenture trustees(s), details of security to be created and process of due diligence carried out by the debenture trustee;
  • Due diligence certificate (To be furnished at the time of filing OD or PPM/IM)

Creation of security

The November 3 Circular mandates creation of charge prior to listing. Due diligence certificate confirming execution of DTD and creation of charge is required to be furnished along with listing application.

The November 3 Circular, further mandates registration of charge within 30 days of creation. Failure to register the charge within 30 days of creation (as opposed to 120 days permitted under Act, 2013) will be considered as breach of covenants/terms of the issue by the Issuer.

What will be the consequence of breach of covenant? Whether it will deemed as an event of default requiring redemption? In our view, this may not be required. As per November 12 Circular, in case of breach of covenants or terms of the issue by listed entity, the DT shall  take  steps  as  outlined  in  para  6.1  and  6.3  of  SEBI  Circular SEBI/HO/MIRSD/CRADT/CIR/P/2020/203 dated October 13, 2020[5] (October Circular). Para 6.1 and 6.3 of the October Circular mandates DT to send notice to investors within 3 days of event of default and convene meeting of the investors within 30 days of the event of default. The DT shall thereafter take necessary action as decided in the meeting of holders of debt securities in this regard. One needs to ascertain if meeting of debenture holders is relevant for delay in creation of charge.

As evident from the format of certificate given at the time of listing, the DTD is required to be executed before listing (as opposed to 3 months from the date of closure of an issue or an offer under ILDS Regulations and CA, 2013)

Disclosure on website by DT

The consultation paper provided for certain mandatory disclosures to be made by DT on the website. The November 12 Circular provides list of disclosures to be made along with the format prescribed in Annexure B thereto.

Disclosure prescribed in Consultation Paper Disclosure required to be made as per November 12 Circular Periodicity and Timeline Information to be furnished as per the format prescribed
Quarterly Compliance Reports received from the issuers Monitoring of Asset cover certificate and  Quarterly  compliance  report  of the listed entity Quarterly basis. Within 60 days of end of each quarter.
  • Confirmation about receipt of periodical status/ performance report from listed entity to be provided;
  • Information about utilisation certificate, asset cover certificate and asset cover ratio maintained is required to be furnished.
Compliance status on the receipt of asset cover from the issuers, maintenance of various funds by the issuers Covered above    
Defaults by the company Status of information regarding any default  by  listed  entity  and  action taken by debenture trustee Annually. Within 75 days of end of financial year. Details of default, date of intimating and sending notice to debenture holders, results of voting, date of meeting, date of enforcement, date of other actions viz. joining ICA, appointment of nominee director etc to be furnished.
Status of the proceedings of the cases under default Covered above    
Compliance status of each covenant-issue wise on a half yearly basis Status  of  information  regarding breach  of  covenants/terms  of  the issue,  if  any  action  taken  by debenture trustee Half yearly basis. Within 60 days of end of each half year. Details of covenants/ terms of issue breached during HY, details of security to be enforced, date of actual breach, detecting the breach and date of intimation to debenture holders, SE, SEBI etc to be provided.
Revision in Credit ratings Continuous    basis within  T+1  day  from receipt of information Details of immediate previous credit rating and revised credit rating, along with hyperlink of the press release of the CRA to be furnished.
Status  of  payment  of  interest/ principal by the listed entity Continuous    basis within  T+1  day  from receipt of information Status of Payment (Default / Delayed / Non-Cooperation, No Information etc. to be furnished along with date of information given to SE and CRA by DT and other actions taken by DT.
Details of Debenture issues handled by debenture trustee and their status Half yearly basis. Within 60 days of end of each half year. Details of issues accepted during HY, issues fully redeemed during HY, issues outstanding during HY and cumulative issue handled during HY to be furnished.
Complaints  received  by  debenture trustee(s) including default cases Half yearly basis. Within 60 days of end of each half year. Details of complaints pending prior to, received during, resolved during and pending at the end of half year to be furnished.
  Status  regarding  maintenance  of accounts    maintained    under supervision of debenture trustee Annually. Within 75 days of end of financial year. Details of maintenance of DRR, DRF, recovery expense fund, Accounts/ funds in case of municipal debt securities to be provided.
  Monitoring of Utilization Certificate Annually. Within 75 days of end of financial year. Information about utilisation certificate furnished on quarterly basis while monitoring asset cover.

Tough time ahead

As per SEBI Circular dated October 5, 2020[6] effective for issuance made on or after December 1, 2020, listing of private placement will be required to be done within 4 trading days from closure of issue, failing which, the issuer will not be able to utilize issue proceeds of its subsequent two privately placed issuance until final listing approval is received from stock exchanges and penalty will be separately payable. Given the procedural compliances given in the November Circular, it will be challenging for the issuer as well as DT to achieve the timeline.

While, SEBI has rolled out stringent norms for issue and listing of secured debentures, one will have to see how equipped the DTs are to carry out the due diligence and ensure adherence by issuer to these stringent timelines, given the quantum of secured debt issuance done by various issuers. Additional compliances imposed on the DT in terms of November 12 Circular will further add actionables for the DT and also on the issuers as the said information will be required to be furnished by the issuer. Disclosures regarding performance of the DTs, as was proposed in the consultation paper, has not been enforced yet.

In view of increased complexity in issuance of secured debentures, Corporates may consider opting for unsecured debt issuances. Further, Issuers and DTs will have to pull up socks to comply with several actionables lined up this New Year.

 

Annexure 1

Sr. No. Nature of securities extended by Issuer Information/Documents required to be furnished to Debenture Trustee
1. Movable property and Immovable property
  • Details of assets including title deeds (original/ certified true copy by issuers/ certified true copy by existing charge holders, as available) or;
  • title reports issued by a legal counsel/ advocates;
  • copies of the relevant agreements/ Memorandum of Understanding;
  • copy of evidence of registration with Sub-registrar, Registrar of Companies, Central Registry of Securitization Asset Reconstruction and Security Interest (CERSAI) etc.
2. Unencumbered assets
  • An undertaking that the assets on which charge is proposed to be created are free from any encumbrances.

 

3. Encumbered assets Following consents along-with their validity as on date of their submission:

  • Details of existing charge over the assets along with details of charge holders, value/ amount, copy of evidence of registration with Sub-registrar, Registrar of Companies, CERSAI, Information Utility (IU) registered with Insolvency and Bankruptcy Board of India (IBBI) etc. as applicable;
  • Consent/ No-objection certificate (NOC) from existing charge holders for further creation of charge on the assets or relevant transaction documents wherein existing charge holders have given conditional consent/ permission to the Issuer to create further charge on the assets, along-with terms of such conditional consent/ permission, if any;
  • Consent/ NOC from existing unsecured lenders, in case, negative lien is created by Issuer in favour of unsecured lenders.
4. Personal guarantee or any other document/ letter with similar intent
  • Details of guarantor viz. relationship with the Issuer;
  • Net worth statement (not older than 6 months from the date of debenture trustee agreement) certified by a chartered accountant of the guarantor;
  • List of assets of the guarantor including undertakings/ consent/ NOC as mentioned in Sr. No. 2 and 3 above;
  • Conditions of invocation of guarantee including details of put options or any other terms and conditions which may impact the security created;
  • Executed copies of previously entered agreements for providing guarantee to any other person, if any.
5. Corporate guarantee or any other document/ letter with similar intent
  • Details of guarantor viz. holding/ subsidiary/ associate company etc.;
  • Audited financial statements (not older than 6 months from the date of debenture trustee agreement) of guarantor including details of all contingent liabilities;
  • List of assets of the guarantor along-with undertakings/ consent/ NOC as mentioned in Sr. No. 2 and 3 above;
  • Conditions of invocation of guarantee including details of put options or any other terms and conditions which may impact the security created;
  • Impact on the security in case of restructuring activity of the guarantor;
  • Undertaking by the guarantor that the guarantee shall be disclosed as “contingent liability” in the “notes to accounts” of financial statement of the guarantor;
  • Copy of Board resolution of the guarantor for the guarantee provided in respect of the debt securities of the Issuer;
  • Executed copies of previously entered agreements for providing guarantee to any other person, if any.
6. Securities such as equity shares etc.
  • Holding statement from the depository participant along-with an undertaking that these securities shall be pledged in favour of debenture trustee(s) in the depository system.
7. Any other form of security
  • Debt Service Reserve Account etc.

Table 1: Information/Documents required to be furnished to Debenture Trustee

Annexure 2

The due diligence w.r.t. creation of security shall inter-alia include the following:

Nature of Security and things required to be verified by DT Manner of verification
1.  Assets provided by the issuer for creation of security are:

a.  free from any encumbrances; or

b.  necessary permissions or consents has been obtained from existing charge holders

 

1.  Verify from Registrar of Companies, Sub-registrar, CERSAI, IU or other sources where charge is registered/disclosed as per terms.

2.  In case where existing charge holders have given a conditional consent/ permission to the issuer to create further charge on the asset, DT will be required to verify following:

a.  Verify whether such conditional consent/ permission given to issuer by existing charge holders is valid as per terms of transaction documents;

b.  Intimate to existing charge holders via email about the proposal to create further charge on assets by Issuer seeking their comments/ objections, if any, to be communicated to the DT within next 5 working days.

2.  Personal guarantee, corporate guarantee and any other guarantees/form of security. Verify from relevant filings made on websites of MCA, Stock Exchange(s), CIBIL, IU etc. and obtain appraisal report, necessary financial certificates viz. from the statutory auditor in case of corporate guarantee, certificate from Chartered Accountant in case of personal guarantee, as applicable, of the guarantor/ issuer.

Table 2: Due diligence by DT at the time of creation of security

 

Contents of due diligence certificate

To be furnished at the time of filing OD or PPM/IM To be furnished at the time of filing listing application
  • Adequate provision has been made to provide adequate security for the debt securities to be issued;
  • Issuer has obtained necessary permissions/consents for creation of security, further charge;
  • Issuer has made all relevant disclosures, including all covenants proposed to be included in OD or PPM/IM.
  • Issuer has given an undertaking that charge shall be created in favour of DT.
  • The issuer has created charge over its assets in favour of DTs;
  • The issuer has executed Debenture Trust Deed (DTD) and DT agreement;
  • The issuer has given undertaking for registration of charge within 30 days of creation.

Table 3: Contents of Due diligence certificate to be furnished by DT

 

[1] https://www.sebi.gov.in/legal/circulars/nov-2020/creation-of-security-in-issuance-of-listed-debt-securities-and-due-diligence-by-debenture-trustee-s-_48074.html

[2] SEBI (Issue and Listing of Debt Securities) Regulations, 2008

[3] SEBI (Debenture Trustees) Regulations, 1993

[4] https://www.sebi.gov.in/legal/circulars/nov-2020/monitoring-and-disclosures-by-debenture-trustee-s-_48159.html

[5] https://www.sebi.gov.in/legal/circulars/oct-2020/standardisation-of-procedure-to-be-followed-by-debenture-trustee-s-in-case-of-default-by-issuers-of-listed-debt-securities_47855.html

[6] https://www.sebi.gov.in/legal/circulars/oct-2020/standardization-of-timeline-for-listing-of-securities-issued-on-a-private-placement-basis_47790.htm

 

Other reading materials on the similar topic:

  1. ‘SEBI responds to payment defaults by empowering Debenture Trustees’  can be read here
  2. Our other articles on various topics can be read at: http://vinodkothari.com/

Email id for further queries: corplaw@vinodkothari.com

Our website: www.vinodkothari.com

Our Youtube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCgzB-ZviIMcuA_1uv6jATbg

 

Covered bonds and the COVID disruption

-Vinod Kothari

finserv@vinodkothari.com

Last year, the European Covered Bonds Council celebrated 250th anniversary of covered bonds[1]. That year also marked a substantial increase in global volumes of covered bonds issuance, which had been flat for the past few years. However, no one, joining the 250 years’ celebration, would have the COVID disruption in mind

With a history of more than 250 years now, covered bonds would have withstood various calamities and disruptions, both economic and natural, over the years. Covered bonds have not seen defaults over all these years. Will they be able to sustain the COVID disruption as well, given the fact that the major countries where they have been used extensively, have all suffered COVID casualties or infections, in varying degrees? In addition to the challenging credit environment, covered bonds will also be put to another question – does this device of refinancing mortgages in Europe hold the answer to sustaining continuous funding of home loans, thereby mitigating the impact of the crisis?

While, over the years, the instrument has been talked about (and less practiced) in lots of jurisdictions over the world, EU countries are still the bastion for covered bonds. About 82% of the world’s Euro 2.50 trillion dollar outstanding covered bonds are issued by EU entities.

European banks’ dependence on covered bond funding

European banks have a substantial dependence on covered bonds. Germany, where covered bonds have widely been regarded as a “fixture of German banking”, account for nearly 32% of the total capital market funding. In some countries, albeit with smaller bank balance sheets, the number goes up to as high as 78 – 81% [See Graph].

Figure 1  source: https://www.spglobal.com/_media/documents/spglobalratings_spglobalratings-coveredbondsprimer_jun_20_2019.pdf

If covered bonds were to prove resilient to the crisis, the investors’ confidence in these bonds, which have so had several regulatory privileges such as lower risk weights, will stand justified. On the other hand, if the bonds were to prove as brittle as some of their issuing banks, the claim to 250 years of unblemished vintage will be put to question.

Robustness of covered bonds

Covered bonds have a dual recourse feature – the issuer, and the underlying pool, in that order. Covered bonds are generally issued by mortgage-lending banks in Europe. Therefore, a default of covered bonds may occur only the issuing banks face the risk of default. Even if that were to happen, the extent of over-collateralisation in the cover pool may be sufficient to hold the bondholders safe. The recourse that the bondholders have against the loan pool is further strengthened by inherent support in a mortgage loan in form of the LTV ratio.

After the Global Financial Crisis and the introduction of Basel III norms, the capital of EU banks has generally strengthened. Data published by European Central Bank shows that European banks have a common equity tier 1 [CET 1] ratio of about 14.78%, as against the regulatory minimum of 4.5%. Therefore, the issuer banks seem to be poised to withstand pressure on the performance.

Past instances of default

Robustness of covered bonds is not the only factor which has kept them standing over all these years – another very important factor is sovereign support. European sovereigns have been sensitive to the important of covered bonds as crucial to maintain the flow of funds to the housing sector, and hence, they have tried to save covered bonds from defaulting.

In the period 1997 to 2019, out of covered bonds, there have been 33 instances of default by covered bond issuers, in various other on-balance sheet liabilities. However, these issues did not default on their covered bonds[2].

There are several regulatory incentives for covered bonds. Central banks permit self-issued covered bonds to be used as collateral for repo facilities. ECB also permits covered bonds as a part of its purchase program. In addition, there are preferential risk weights for capital requirements.

Rating downgrades in covered bonds correlate with sovereign downgrades

Rating agency Moody’s reports [16th April, 2020 report][3] that the potential for rating downgrades for covered bonds was strongly correlated with the ratings of sovereigns. “for countries with Aaa country ceilings, the average 12-month downgrade rate between 1997 and 2019 was 6.5% for covered bonds and 15.5% for covered bond issuers. However, in countries with lower country

ceilings, representing lower sovereign credit quality, the average 12-month downgrade rate increased to 24% for covered bonds and 25% for covered bond issuers”.

Rating agency Fitch also had a similar observation – stating that the rating downgrades for covered bonds were mostly related to sovereign downgrades, as in case of Greece and Italy.

Risk of downgrades in covered bonds

Risk of downgrades in covered bonds arises mainly from 2 reasons: weakening health of issuer banks, and quality of the underlying mortgage pools. Mortgage pools face the risks of reducing property prices, strain on urban incomes and increase in unemployment levels, etc. Over-collateralisation levels remain a strength, but unlike in case of MBS, covered bonds lean primarily on the health of the issuer banks. As long as the bank in question has adequate capital, the chances that it will continue to perform on covered bonds remain strong.

At the loan level, LTV ratios are also sufficiently resilient. Moody’s report suggests that in several jurisdictions, the LTV ratios for European covered bonds are less than 60%.

Additionally, in several European jurisdictions, the regulatory requirement stipulate non-performing loans either to be replaced by performing loans, or not to be considered for the purpose of collateral pool.

Unused notches of rating upliftment

A covered bond rating may rise by several notches, because of a combination of factors, including issuer resolution framework, jurisdictional support, and collateral support[4]. Either because of the strength of the pool, or because of the legislation support, or because of both. However, in any case the issuer’s credit rating is already strong, say, AAA, the notching up that could potentially have come has not been used at all. This is what is referred to as “unused notches”.

In order to assess the ability of covered bonds to withstand the pressure on the issuer bank’s rating will be the extent of unused notches of rating upliftment. In a report dated 25th March, 2020[5], rating agency S&P gave data about unused notches of rating upliftment of covered bonds in several jurisdictions. These ranged between 1 to 6 in many countries, thus pointing to the ability of the covered bond issuances to withstand rating pressures.

Conclusion

We are at the cusp of the disruption in global economies caused by the COVID pandemic. Any assessment of the impact of the crisis on capital market instruments may verge on being speculative. However, current signals are that the 250 years of history of performance does not face the risk of a collapse.

Links to our other resources on covered bonds –

http://vinodkothari.com/wp-content/uploads/Introduction-to-Covered-Bonds-by-Vinod-Kothari.pdf

vinodkothari.com/wp-content/uploads/covered-bonds-article-by-vinod-kothari.pdf

[1] 29th August, 1769, Frederick the Great of Prussia signed an order permitting the issuance of a landowners’ cooperative.  It was in 1770 that the first German pfandbrief was issued. Going by this, the 250th anniversary should actually be this year.

[2] See Moody’s report here: https://www.moodys.com/researchdocumentcontentpage.aspx?docid=PBS_1117861

[3] https://www.moodys.com/researchdocumentcontentpage.aspx?docid=PBS_1221857

[4] Rating agency Standard and Poor’s, for example, considers at least 2 notches for resolution framework, three notches for jurisdictional support, and four notches for collateral support.

[5] https://www.spglobal.com/ratings/en/research/articles/200325-global-covered-bonds-assessing-the-credit-effects-of-covid-19-11402802