In response to the stress caused due to the pandemic COVID-19, the regulatory authorities around the world have been coming out relaxations and bailout packages. Reserve Bank of India, being the apex financial institution of the country, came out a flurry of measures as a part of its Seventh Bi-Monthly Policy, to tackle the crisis in hand.
One of the measure, which aims to pass on immediate relief to the borrowers, is extension of moratorium on term loans extended by banks and financial institutions. We have in a separate write-up discussed the impact of this measure, however, in this write-up we have tried to examine its impact on the securitisation and direct assignment transactions.
Securitisation and direct assignment transactions have been happening extensively since the liquidity crisis after the failure of ILFS and DHFL, as it allowed the investors to take exposure on the underlying assets, without having to take any direct exposure on the financial intermediaries (NBFCs and HFCs). However, this measure has opened up various ambiguities in the structured finance industry regarding the fate of the securitisation or direct assignment transactions in light of this measure.
Originators’ right to extend moratorium
The originators, will be expected to extend this moratorium to the borrowers, even for the cases which have been sold the under securitisation. The question is, do they have sufficient right to extend moratorium in the first place? The answer is no. The moment an originator sells off the assets, all its rights over the assets stands relinquished. However, after the sale, it assumes the role of a servicer. Legally, a servicer does not have any right to confer any relaxation of the terms to the borrowers or restructure the facility.
Therefore, if at all the originator/ servicer wishes to extend moratorium to the borrowers, it will have to first seek the consent of the investors or the trustees to the transaction, depending upon the terms of the assignment agreement.
On the other hand, in case of the direct assignment transactions, the originators retain only 10% of the cash flows. The question here is, will the originator, with 10% share, be able to grant moratorium? The answer again is no. With just 10% share in the cash flows, the originator cannot alone grant moratorium, approval of the assignee has to be obtained.
As discussed above, extension of moratorium in case of account sold under direct assignment or securitisation transactions, will be possible only with the consent of the investors. Once the approval is placed, what will happen to the transactions, as very clearly there will be a deferral of cash flows for a period of 3 months? Will this lead to a deterioration in the quality of the securitised paper, ultimately leading to a rating downgrade? Will this lead to the accounts being classified as NPAs in the books of the assignee, in case of direct assignment transactions?
Before discussing this question, it is important to understand that the intention behind this measure is to extend relief to the end borrowers from the financial stress due to this on-going pandemic. The relief is not being granted in light of any credit weakness in the accounts. In a securitisation or a direct assignment, the transaction mirrors the quality of the underlying pool. If the credit quality of the loans remain intact, then there is no question of the securitisation or the direct assignment transaction going bad. Similarly, we do not see any reason for rating downgrade as well.
The next question that arises here is: what about the loss of interest due to the deferment of cash flows? The RBI’s notification states that the financial institutions may provide a moratorium of 3 months, which basically means a payment holiday. This, however, does not mean that the interest accrual will also be suspended during this period. As per our understanding, despite the payment suspension, the lenders will still be accruing the interest on the loans during these 3 months – which will be either collected from the borrower towards the end of the transaction or by re-computing the EMIs. If the lenders adopt such practices, then it should also pass on the benefits to the investors, and the expected cash flows of the PTCs or under the direct assignment transactions should also be recomputed and rescheduled so as to compensate the investors for the losses due to deferment of cash flows.
Another question that arises is – can the investors or the trustee in a securitisation transaction, instead of agreeing to a rescheduling of cash flows, use the credit enhancement to recover the dues during this period? Here it is important to note that credit enhancements are utilised usually when there is a shortfall due to credit weakness of the underlying borrower(s). Using credit enhancements in this case, will reduce the extent of support, weaken the structure of the transaction and may lead to rating downgrade. Therefore, this is not advisable.
We were to imagine an extreme situation – can the investors force the originators to buy back the PTCs or the pool from the assignee, in case of a direct assignment transaction? In case of securitisation transactions, there are special guidelines for exercise of clean up calls on PTCs by the originators, therefore, such a situation will have to be examined in light of the applicable provisions of Securitisation Guidelines. For any other cases, including direct assignment transactions, such a situation could lead up to a larger question on whether the original transaction was itself a true sale or not, because, a buy-back of the pool, defies the basic principles of true sale. Hence, this is not advisable.