Additional relief from COVID-19 disruptions

Based on the recommendations of the Monetary Policy Committee

-Financial Services Division (finserv@vinodkothari.com)

Extension of the restructuring norms for MSME debt

The RBI via a notification on 1st January 2019[1] had allowed NBFCs and banks to restructure their advances to MSMEs, classified as ‘standard’, without any asset classification downgrade and the same was extended further on 11th February 2020.[2]

Through the notification dated August 6, 2020[3], the RBI has again extended the timeline for restructuring till March 31, 2021.

Further, the notification dated August 6, 2020 provides that the accounts which may have slipped into NPA category between March 2, 2020 and date of implementation i.e. from August 6, 2020 to March 31, 2021, may be upgraded as ‘standard asset’, as on the date of implementation of the restructuring plan.

For accounts restructured under these guidelines, the lenders are required to maintain an additional provision of 5% over and above the provision already held by them with respect to standard assets. Though, the extension notification does not specifically provide such provisioning requirements for NBFCs, however, reading in consonance with the January 2019 notification, it can be said that the requirement is for both banks and NBFCs.

The extension of relaxation would chiefly benefit the MSME borrowers who are having sound businesses as well as repayment capabilities however, are unable to meet their obligations post 1st March 2020, due to widespread disruption caused by the pandemic. The move would ensure that MSMEs that are having a viable business standing are not hit by negative classification just because of short term volatilities.

Advances against Gold Ornaments and Jewellery

The existing RBI guidelines[4] require that for the loan granted by banks against the security of gold jewelry i.e. gold loans a Loan-to-Value (LTV) Ratio of maximum upto 75% has to be maintained. Through notification dated August 6, 2020[5], LTV requirement has been relaxed temporarily. Accordingly, banks may now lend up to 90% of the amount of gold jewellery pledged until March 31, 2021.

Banks may, while sanctioning new loans, grant relatively more amount of loan. Further, using the advantage of extended LTV, banks may also consider providing top-up loans to the existing borrowers, on existing security of gold jewellery.

After March 31, 2021, the LTV requirement shall be restored back to 75%. While the notification mentions that fresh loans granted after such date shall have an LTV of 75%, it is silent about the treatment of existing loans. Clarification in this regard is expected from the RBI.

In the absence of any clarification, the loans given before March 31, 2021 shall also be bound by the LTV of 75% after such date. Accordingly, the banks should either structure the loan in such a manner that the LTV comes down to 75% after receiving repayments up to March 31, 2021 or the banks may have to call back a certain portion of loan so as to meet the LTV requirement after such date.

It may also be noted that despite the high amount of market penetration of NBFCs in gold loan sector[6], no such relaxation has been provided to NBFCs.

Priority Sector Lending by Banks

The RBI has revised the existing guidelines on priority sector lending (PSL) by banks[7]. While the detailed PSL guidelines are yet to be released, following are a few major changes that will be introduced:

  • Start-ups would be a new sector to come under the ambit of priority sectors
  • The limits for renewable energy, including solar power and compressed bio-gas plants, small and marginal farmers and weaker sections are proposed to be increased.
  • An incentive-based system shall be introduced, which shall address the regional disparities in the flow of priority sector credit. Under this system, higher weight will be assigned for incremental priority sector credit in the identified districts where credit flow is comparatively lower and vice versa.

 

[1] https://www.rbi.org.in/Scripts/NotificationUser.aspx?Id=11445&Mode=0

[2] https://www.rbi.org.in/Scripts/NotificationUser.aspx?Id=11808&Mode=0

[3] https://www.rbi.org.in/Scripts/NotificationUser.aspx?Id=11942&Mode=0

[4] https://www.rbi.org.in/Scripts/BS_CircularIndexDisplay.aspx?Id=9124 and https://www.rbi.org.in/scripts/NotificationUser.aspx?Id=8701&Mode=0

[5] https://www.rbi.org.in/Scripts/NotificationUser.aspx?Id=11944&Mode=0

[6] https://assets.kpmg/content/dam/kpmg/in/pdf/2020/01/return-of-gold-financiers-in-organised-lending-market.pdf

[7] https://m.rbi.org.in/Scripts/BS_ViewMasDirections.aspx?id=10497

Resolution Framework for Covid-19-related stress

Other related write-ups:

 

 

SEBI extends deadline for June quarter results amid COVID-19

Companies to manage the dual requirement of holding board meetings and submission of financial results

Shaifali Sharma
Vinod Kothari & Company
corplaw@vinodkothari.com

In the wake of the continuing impact of COVID-19 pandemic, SEBI vide circular[1] dated June 24, 2020, granted relaxation to listed entities and extended the timeline for submission of financial results for quarter / half year / financial year ended March 31, 2020 to July 31, 2020.

Since, now the first quarter of the FY 2020-21 has come to an end, companies are expected to finalize, approve and submit their financials to the respective stock exchange(s) within 45 days from the quarter ended June 30, 2020 as per Regulation 33 of the SEBI (Listing Obligations and Disclosure Requirements) Regulations, 2015 (‘Listing Regulations’) i.e. on or before August 14, 2020.

Considering the shortened time gap of 14 days between the two due dates stated above i.e. July 31 and August 14, SEBI vide its circular[2] dated July 29, 2020, has extended the deadline to submit financial results for the first quarter from August 14 to September 15, 2020 thereby allowing additional 32 days to the listed companies which will in turn provide extra time to companies and its auditors working on reporting the quarterly financial results.

It is pertinent to note here that the board of directors, as per Regulation 17(2) of the Listing Regulations, must meet at least four times a year, with a maximum time gap of 120 days between any two meetings. In this regard, the SEBI vide circular[3] date June 26, 2020 had exempted the listed entities from observing the stipulated time gap between two board meetings for the meetings held/proposed to be held between the period December 01, 2019 and July 31, 2020.

Considering no further extension has been granted by SEBI yet, the board meeting for approving the financial results should be scheduled keeping in mind the maximum time gap of 120 days prescribed under the Listing Regulations. For example, if we take a case of a listed company which held its last board meeting on May 02, 2020, the next board meeting shall be scheduled on or before August 31, 2020  instead of the extended due date of September 14, 2020.

As regards for unlisted companies, the maximum time gap for conducting board meetings had been relaxed vide MCA circular[4] dated March 24, 2020 to 180 days from present 120 days for the first two quarters of FY 2020-2021.

[1] https://www.sebi.gov.in/legal/circulars/jun-2020/further-extension-of-time-for-submission-of-financial-results-for-the-quarter-half-year-financial-year-ending-31st-march-2020-due-to-the-continuing-impact-of-the-covid-19-pandemic_46924.html

[2] https://www.sebi.gov.in/legal/regulations/jun-2009/securities-and-exchange-board-of-india-delisting-of-equity-shares-regulations-2009-last-amended-on-april-17-2020-_34625.html

[3] https://www.sebi.gov.in/legal/circulars/jun-2020/relaxation-of-time-gap-between-two-board-audit-committee-meetings-of-listed-entities-owing-to-the-covid-19-pandemic_46945.html

[4] http://www.mca.gov.in/Ministry/pdf/Circular_25032020.pdf


Other reading materials on the similar topic:

  1. ‘COVID-19 – Incorporated Responses | Regulatory measures in view of COVID-19’ can be viewed here
  2. ‘Resources on virtual AGMs’ can be viewed here
  3. Our other articles on various topics can be read at: http://vinodkothari.com/

Email id for further queries: corplaw@vinodkotahri.com

Our website: www.vinodkothari.com

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

Recent Trends in Crypto-Industry: India & Abroad

-Megha Mittal

(mittal@vinodkothari.com)

“Opportunity amidst tragedy” would likely be the most suitable phrase to summarise the journey of cryptos during the Global Pandemic- with disruption taking a toll on people and economies, and physical proximities massively restrictred, cryptos have outshone traditional assets, by virtue of its inherent features- easy liquidity, access and digitalisation.

Further, as countries around the globe attempt to stimulate their economies by opening floodgates of liquid funds, the ‘digital natives’ have and are expected to increasingly venture into adventure-some investments- think, cryptos. And while such adventurous investing may be short-lived, the results may infact have a long-lasting impact- it is this expected impact that has sets the ‘bull’ stage for cryptos in times to come.

In this brief note, we cover the recent highlights and developments in the crypto-industry, also discussing developments in the relatively new concepts of stablecoins, crypto-lending.

Read more

Limits on creeping acquisition by promoters increased during COVID-19 crises

Shaifali Sharma | Vinod Kothari and Company

Introduction

SEBI has been taking several proactive measures to relax fund raising norms and thereby making it easier for companies to raise capital amid the COVID-19 pandemic. With a view to further facilitate fund raising by the companies, SEBI vide its notification dated June 16, 2020[1], has relaxed the obligation for making open offer for creeping acquisition under Regulation 3(2) of the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Substantial Acquisition of Shares and Takeovers) Regulations, 2011 (Takeover Code).

The relaxation allows creeping acquisition upto 10% instead of the existing 5%, for acquisition by promoters of a listed company for the financial year 2020-21. The relaxation is specific and limited to acquisition by way of a preferential issue of equity shares and therefore excludes acquisitions through transfers, block and bulk deals etc. Also recently, SEBI in its Board Meeting[2] held on June 25, 2020 has proposed to provide an additional option to the existing pricing methodology for preferential issue under which the minimum price for allotment of shares will be volume weighted average of weekly highs and low for twelve weeks or two weeks, whichever is higher.However, this new rule shall apply till December 31, 2020 with 3 years lock-in condition for allotted shares. Further, by way of the same notification, SEBI has also relaxed the provisions of voluntary open offer where an acquirer together with PAC will be eligible to make voluntary offer irrespective of any acquisition in the previous 52 weeks from the date of voluntary offer, this will promote investments into various companies in future.

This article tries to discuss on whether the relaxation given by SEBI to the promoters are as encouraging as it seems to be, when connected with the pricing norms for preferential issue under the SEBI (Issue of Capital and Disclosures Requirement) Regulations, 2018 (‘ICDR Regulations’) and how the new pricing methodology proposed by SEBI can leverage the situation.

What is Creeping Acquisition?

Creeping acquisition, governed by Regulation 3(2) of the Takeover Code, refers to the process through which the acquirer together with PAC holding more than 25% but less than 75%, to gradually increase their stake in the target company by buying up to 5% of the voting rights of the company in one financial year. Any acquisition of further shares or voting rights beyond 5% shall require the acquirer to make an open offer. Further, for the purpose of creeping acquisition, SEBI considers gross acquisitions only notwithstanding any intermittent fall. The same is projected in Figure 1 below. Also, in all cases, the increase in shareholding or voting rights is permitted only till the 75% non-public shareholding limit.

Figure 1: Creeping acquisition limit increased from 5% to 10%

Rationale for easing the norms of Creeping Acquisition

While the companies are currently struggling to manage their cash flows due to the financial challenges faced on account of COVID-19, the amendment will allow companies to raise funds from promoters to tide over their difficulties for the financial year 2020-21. This revision will also boost the sagging stock market and help sustain the stock prices of the company.

Promoters, on the other hand, owning 25% or more of the shares or voting rights in a company will be able to increase their shareholdings up to 10% in a year versus the previously allowed threshold limit of 5%.

Permutations and Combinations of Creeping Acquisition during FY 2020-21

Since the enhanced 10% limit applies only in case of acquisition under preferential issue, the total acquisition of 10% may be achieved by any of the following combinations:

Option 1: Acquire upto 5% shares via open-market purchase or any other form and the remaining 5% shares can be acquired through subscribing to a preferential issue.

Option 2:Acquire 10% shares through preferential issue

Accordingly, in a block of 12 months of financial year 2020-21, if the promoterwants to acquire share through open market, bulk deals, block deals or in any other form, the 5% threshold shall remain in force and additional 5% can be acquired through preferential issue.

Identified below are the permitted acquisitions through open market, transfers or other forms in case promoter opts for preferential issue:

Whether the relaxation in open offer is actually encouraging when read with the pricing norms under ICDR Regulations?

As stated above, the relaxation can be availed only in the cases where the investments are done undera preferential issue. Regulation 164 of the SEBI (Issue of Capital and Disclosures Requirement) Regulations, 2018 (‘ICDR Regulations’) deals with the pricing norms under preferential issue. It provides that the issue price in cases where the shares have been listed for more than 26 weeks on a recognized stock exchange as on the relevant date, the issue price has to be higher of the following:

  1. the average of the weekly high and low of the volume weighted average price of the related equity shares quoted on the recognized stock exchange during the twenty six weeks preceding the relevant date; or
  2. the average of the weekly high and low of the volume weighted average prices of the related equity shares quoted on a recognized stock exchange during the two weeks preceding the relevant date.

The computation of the prices as per the above stated regulation will lead to a wide gap between the pricing at the beginning of the twenty-six week period and the current price when the company raises funds.

During this time of stock market crises, the stock prices of many companies have dropped sharply from their respective all-time high values recorded 6 months back. Further, in the cases where the market price is lower than the minimum price calculated as per ICDR Regulations for preferential issue, the promoters will be discouraged to acquire shares under preferential allotment as they will end up paying higher values.

Due to the challenges faced by the economy in view of COVID-19, the trading prices of the listed companies have gone down sharply. Accordingly, the price determined under ICDR Regulations may not be a motivating factor for the promoters to subscribe to the additional shares though, elimination of the costs involved in a public offer may compensate the same.

However, to curb the above situation, SEBI in its Board meeting held on June 25, 2020, has proposed an additional option to the existing pricing methodology for preferential issuance as under:

In case of frequently traded shares, the price of the equity shares to be allotted pursuant to the preferential issue shall be not less than higher of the following:

  1. the average of the weekly high and low of the volume weighted average price of the related equity shares quoted on the recognized stock exchange during the twelve weeks preceding the relevant date; or
  2. the average of the weekly high and low of the volume weighted average prices of the related equity shares quoted on a recognized stock exchange during the two weeks preceding the relevant date.

The new option will consider the weighted average price of equity shares preceding 12 weeks instead of the preceding 26 weeks and therefore reflect the accurate price during the pandemic period.  This may prove to be the solution to above crises,making fundraising through preferential issue easier for the corporates and simultaneously encouraging the promoters as well to infuse funds.

Compliances for preferential issue to promoters under PIT Regulations

Considering the fact that promoter is one of the designated person as per the SEBI (Prohibition of Insider Trading) Regulations, 2015 (‘PIT Regulations’), the companies, in addition to the procedural requirements for preferential issue prescribed under the Companies Act, 2013, ICDR Regulations and other applicable laws, shall also comply with the provisions of PIT Regulations.

Closure of trading window in case of preferential allotment

Designated persons and their immediate relatives shall not trade in securities when the trading window is closed. The trading restriction period shall apply from the end of every quarter till 48 hours after the declaration of financial results.

Further, the trading window shall also be closed when the compliance officer determines that a designated person (DP) or class of designated persons can reasonably be expected to have possession of unpublished price sensitive information (UPSI). Therefore, the trading window shall be closed and communicated to all DPs as soon as the date/notice of board meeting to approve issue of share via preferential allotment is finalized upto 2nd trading day after communication of the decision of the Board to the Stock Exchanges.

Accordingly, promoter/ class of promoters acquiring shares under preferential issue shall conduct all their dealings in the securities of the company only in a valid trading window i.e. once the trading widow is open subject to the pre-clearance norms prescribed under PIT Regulations and the Code of Conduct for prevention of insider trading of the Company.

Concluding Remarks

Given the lack of liquidity in the market, the proposed amendments maybe seen as an opportunity for target companies to raise capital from its promoters. Further, promoters can also infuse funds through equity issuance and will be able to increase their shareholding in the target company without the formalities of making the open offer.

Having said that since the market might take some time to recover, this relaxation provides a gateway for promoters to avoid open offer requirements which would otherwise have involved compliance burden on the promoter. However, the pricing factor may seem to be the only hindrance or a demotivation for actually availing this relaxation which seems to be resolved through the new pricing method proposed by SEBI in its Board meeting.

[1]To view the notification, click here

[2]https://www.sebi.gov.in/media/press-releases/jun-2020/sebi-board-meeting_46929.html

Other reading materials on the similar topic:

  1. ‘SEBI revisits Takeover Code’ can be viewed here
  2. ‘Takeover Code 2011’ can be viewed here
  3. ‘Decoding Takeover Code’ can be viewed here
  4. 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

A Guide to Disclosure on COVID-19 related impacts

| SEBI seeks transparency from listed entities in times of COVID crises

Shaifali Sharma | Vinod Kothari and Company

corplaw@vinodkothari.com

Introduction

The impact of COVID-19 on companies is evolving rapidly not only in India but all over the world. In times of increased volatility and uncertainty in the capital market, detailed information regarding any material impact on the company’s business will not only assist the investors in making informed investment decisions but will also be fundamental formarket integrity and functioning.

Pursuant to the requirements of Listing Regulations, many listed entities have made disclosures, primarily intimating shutdown of operations owing to the pandemic and the resultant lockdowns. However, such probable information may be relatively less relevant and investors are more interested to know where these companies stand today, what are their estimated future impacts, strategiesadopted by these companies for addressing the effects of COVID-19, etc.

Given the information gaps in the market, SEBI, highlighting the importance of timely and adequate disclosures to investors and other stakeholders, issued an advisory[1]on May 20, 2020 (‘Advisory’), asking all the listed entities to evaluate the impact of COVID-19 on their business, performance and financials, both qualitatively and quantitatively, and disseminated the same to the stock exchange.

This article discuss in detail the disclosure requirements under Listing Regulations and provides a quick guide for the listed entities in evaluating and disclosing impact of pandemic on their business.

Existing disclosure norms under Listing Regulations on impact of COVID-19

The existing requirements prescribed under Listing Regulations in relation to the disclosure of impact of COVID-19 on listed entities are summarized below.The same is applicable to the following entities:

  • companies listed with specified securities i.e. equity shares and convertible securities
  • companies listed with Non-convertible Debt Securities (NCDs) and/or Non-Convertible Redeemable Preference Shares (NCRPSs)
Entities having specified securities listed Entities having NCDs/NCRPS listed
What is the disclosure requirements prescribed under Listing Regulations?
The events can be divided into two broad categories a. Deemed Material Events and b. Material Events based on application of materiality criteria as provided in Regulation 30(4).

In the first category, the events specified in Para A of Part A of Schedule III get covered and requires mandatorily disclosure on the occurrence and in the second category, events under Para B are disclosed based on the application of the guidelines for materiality prescribed under sub-regulation (4) of Regulation 30.

Unlike Regulation 30, Regulation 51 does not provide for any test of materiality.

Part B of Schedule III requires disclosure of all information either,

  • having bearing on the performance/ operation of the listed entity; or
  • is price sensitive; or
  • shall affect the payment of  interest/ dividend on NCDs/ NCRPSs; or
  • shall affect the  redemption of NCDs/ NCRPSs.
Whether disclosure on COVID impact required by Listing Regulations?
Yes.

Disclosure w.r.t. disruption of operations of any one or more units or division of a listed entity due to natural calamity (earthquake, flood, fire etc.), force majeure or events such as strikes, lockouts etc. falls under second category.

Therefore, disruption of operations due to COVID-19 is required only if the same is considered material after applying the materiality guidelines.

Yes.

Since disruption caused by COVID may be said to have the aforesaid effects.

What are the actionables as per Listing Regulations?
In terms of sub- regulation (5) of Regulation 30, the Board of Directors (BoD) is required to authorize one or more KMPs for the purpose of determining materiality. Therefore, such authorized KMP(s) shall determine if the impact of COVID on company’s operations is material based on the criteria prescribed under sub-regulation (4) and the policy framed by company for said purpose.

On determination of the materiality, the same shall be disclosed to stock exchange and also host the disclosure on company’s website.

For this category of companies, the law does not provide for the similar requirements as provided for companieshaving specified securities listed eg. framing of policy, determination of materiality by Board authorized person etc. Therefore, the disruption caused by COVID-19 shall be intimated to the stock exchanges(s) as per Regulation 51 of the Listing Regulations.

In this case, disclosure on website is not mandatory; however, company may do so for better reach of information to investors and stakeholders.

When is the disclosure required?
Regulation 30 provides for disclosure as soon as reasonably possible, but not later than 24 hours from the occurrence of the event. The guidance on when an event is said to have occurred has been provided in SEBI Circular[2] dated September 09, 2015. In terms of the said Circular, the same would depend upon the timing when the listed entity became aware of the event/information or as soon as, an officer of the entity has, or ought to have reasonably come into possession of the information in the course of the performance of his duties. Regulation 51 provides for prompt dissemination i.e. as soon as practically possible and without any delay and that the information shall be given first to the stock exchange(s) before providing the same to any third party.
What all disclosures have been suggested by SEBI vide its Circular dated September 09, 2015?
As per SEBI circular dated September 09, 2015, companies shall disclose:

At the time of occurrence of disruption:

  • expected quantum of loss/ damage caused at the time of occurrence of the event;
  • whether loss/damage covered by insurance or not including amount
  • estimated impact on the production/operations
  • factory/unit where  the  lock  out  takes  place  with reasons

Regularly, till complete normalcy is restored

  • Insurance   amount   claimed   and   realized   by   the   listed   entity   for   the loss/damage;
  • actual amount of damage caused
  • details of steps taken to restore normalcy and impact on production/operations, financials of the entity
Though the said Circular refers to only Regulation 30, however, the same requirements should apply to this category of companies also which should additionally disclose the impact on servicing of interest/ dividend/ redemption etc.

Similar disclosure requirement are prescribed for entities which has listed its Indian Depository Receipts, Securitized Debt Instruments and Security Receipts where all information which is price sensitive or having bearing on the performance/ operation of the listed entity and other material event as prescribed under Chapter VII, VIII, VIIIA read with Schedule III of the Listing Regulations shall be disclosed

Disclosure requirements as per SEBI Advisory

As mentioned earlier, SEBI Advisory is an addition to the above requirements of Listing Regulations. Though, one may argue that the Advisory is recommendatory in nature and it does not mandate the companies to make the disclosure, however, in our view, the same is not a mere recommendation. Keeping this in mind, the probable questions that one can have with respect to SEBI Advisory have been captured below:

What is the intention of the SEBI behind issuing such Advisory?

As mentioned in the SEBI Advisory, the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic and the consequent nationwide lockdown has lead to distortions in the market due to the gaps in information available about the operations of a listed entity and therefore, it is important for a listed entity to ensure that all available information about the impact of pandemic on the company and its operations is communicated in a timely and cogent manner to its investors and stakeholders.

These disclosures ensure transparency and will provide investors an opportunity to make an accurate assessment of the company. So, the idea behind the disclosures is to give an equal access to the information to all the stakeholders at large.

Which all entities are covered by SEBI Advisory?

Due to the COVID-19, a global pandemic, all kinds of businesses are impacted in one way or another. Unlike the Listing Regulations, SEBI Advisory does not differentiate the disclosure requirements for the companies listed with specified securities and companies listed with NCDs/NCRPS, and the Advisory is applicable to all the listed entities.

Whether the requirements of Advisory are mandatory for listed entities?

Considering the purpose of making fair and timely disclosure of any material impact on the companies, the disclosures as mentioned in the Advisory shall be treated as mandatory in nature.

Whether disclosure required if the thresholds as set out in company’s materiality policy are not met?

The materiality of an event is generally measured in terms of thresholds laid down by the companies in their ‘policy for determination of materiality’ however, such criteria should not be considered as an absolute test to determine the materiality of an event like COVID pandemic

In times of the ongoing crises, investors would be interested to know all the inside information about the impact of pandemic on the company’s business operations, financial results, future strategies, etc. i.e. every qualitative or quantitative factors.

Since every person is doing an assessment of the impact of the crisis, it is intuitive to say that the management of the companies must also have done some assessment. Considering that the idea is to provide general and equal access to the information to all the stakeholders at large, the management must disclose every positive/negative/neutral impact of the crises on the company, irrespective of the fact that it qualifies the prescribed materiality threshold or not.

What if there no impact on the business caused by the pandemic? Whether the same is also required to be disclosed?

In our view, not getting affected by the pandemic at the time when the entire world is otherwise getting affected is also material. Therefore, the disclosure shall have to be made.

Further, it is not always necessary that the pandemic will have to have a negative impact e.g. decrease in sales volume. For example, companies in pharmaceutical sector or in the sector of manufacturing of essential items such as, mask, sanitizer etc. will have a boost in sales, thereby carrying a positive impact on them.

Whether Board meeting is required to be conducted in this regard? Or will the company be required to wait till the Board decision to make the disclosure?

While an internal assessment is required at the management level, however, a Board meeting is not mandatory to be conducted. Yes, the estimates already made may be changed at a later stage which may be disclosed at that stage again.

Is it ok to say for the management to take a position that they have not analyzed the impact of the crisis?

Considering the current risk and challenges as a result of COVID-19, it is very unlikely to say that companies have not done any internal assessment to determine the current and potential impact on the company’s financial and business operations.

What are the steps involved in making the disclosure?

Step 1: Evaluate the impact of the pandemic on the business, performance and financial

Before making any disclosure to the stock exchange(s), the management of the company must properly assess the impact of COVID-19 on its business, performance and financials, both qualitative and quantitative impact.

Step 2: Dissemination of impact of pandemic to stock exchange

The following information shall be disseminated to the stock exchange:

  1. Impact of the pandemic on the business;
  2. Ability to maintain operations including factories/ units/ office spaces functioning and closed down;
  3. Schedule, if any for restarting the operations;
  4. Steps taken to ensure smooth functioning of the operations;
  5. Estimation of future impact on the operations;
  6. Details of impact on the listed entity’s
    • capital and financial resources;
    • profitability;
    • liquidity position;
    • ability to service debt and other financing arrangements;
    • assets;
    • internal financial reporting and control;
    • supply chain
    • demand for its products/services;
  7. Existing contracts/agreements where non-fulfilment of the obligations byany party will have significant impact on the listed entity’s business;
  8. Any other information as the entity may determine to be relevant and material;

While making the above disclosure to stock exchanges, entities shall also adopt the principle of disclosure and transparency prescribed under Regulation 4(2)(e) of the Listing Regulations.

Who is responsible to evaluate and make disclosures to the stock exchange(s)? What is the role of the Board in the process of assessment and/or disclosure?

  1. Responsibility of KMP(s) as per Listing Regulations

Pursuant to Regulation 30 of the Listing Regulations, the KMP(s), as may be authorized by the Board, is responsible to determine the materiality of the impact of pandemic on the company based on the on the guidelines for materiality and the materiality policy of the company and disclose the same to the stock exchange

  1. Role of Board in the assessment of other material qualitative and quantitative impacts

Considering the language of the Advisory issued by SEBI, in addition to the KMPs authorized to test the materiality, the Board will also have a role in determining the COVID impact as the same requires disclosure in which management intervention may be necessary, e.g. future plans for business continuity, capability of running the business smoothly, material changes expected during the year, impact of the financial position etc.

However, as discussed above, a Board level discussion is not a prerequisite of making the disclosure.

Is there any timeline prescribed for making disclosers to the stock exchange(s)?

There is no specific timeline provided in the Advisory for making disclosures, however, in the present situation, the disclosure is required to be made as soon as an assessment is done on the probable impact by the management.

Whether the disclosures a one-time requirement for the listed entities?

Since the operations of the company will recommence soon, question arises if the companies should continue with its assessment and disclosure process. As stated in Advisory, to have continuous information about the impact of COVID-19, listed entities may provide regularupdates, as and when there are material developments. Further, since the disclosures will be made based on estimates, any changein those estimates or the actual position shall also be disclosed in regular intervals.

Therefore, disclosure is required not only at the time of occurrence but also on a continuous basis till the normalcy of the situation.

Whether impact on an unlisted subsidiary company shall also be disclosed? 

To get an overall view of company’s performance, we always evaluate consolidated figures. Sometimes, company’s standalone performance is strong as compared to its performance at consolidated level. Accordingly, if the pandemic’s impact on unlisted subsidiary is such that it is having a material impact at the group level, the same shall be disclosed to the stock exchange.

Whether effects of COVID-19 be also reported in Financial Results?

In the coming days, companies will be disclosing their quarterly and yearly financial results. This time, however, investors will be interested inknowing the impact of COVID-19 on the company’s financial positions. Therefore, while submitting financial statements under Regulation 33 of the Listing Regulations, companies should mention about the impact of the CoVID-19 pandemic on their financial statements.

What will be the consequences for not complying with the SEBI Advisory?

Since no separate penal provisions are prescribed under the Advisory, non- compliance of the same may not lead to any penal consequences.

What is the global position as regards disclosure of COVID impact?

Market regulators worldwide have taken various steps to ensure transparency related to the impacts of the pandemic on the listed companies. In United States, the Securities Exchange Commission has issued guidance[3] regarding disclosure and other securities law obligations that companies should consider w.r.t the COVID-19 and related business and market disruptions. Similarly, for listed companies and auditors in Hong Kong, the Securities and Futures Commission and the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong Limited issued a joint press release[4] in relation to the disclosure requirements in response to the COVID-19 outbreak

Our write-up giving an insightful analysis on the said SEBI advisory drawing an inference from the global perspective can be viewed here

What kind of information be disclosed to the stock exchange?

The table below is a quick guide for the listed entities in determining and disclosing the impact of COVID-19 on their businesses:

 

Sr. No. Subject of Assessment and Disclosure Broad Contents (Illustrative list)

 

I.                     Current status (both financial and operating status)

 

  • Status of closure and reopening of branches/units/ stores in different parts
  • Areas in which the company is operating
  • Current liquidity position
  • Impact on productions, sales, profits, stock prices, credit rating, assets, etc.
  • Internal financial reporting and control
  • Impact in capital and financial resources
  • Current trading and outlook
  • Impact on working staff
  • Layoffs during the period
  • Areas of business most impacted
  • Status of business in other countries (say China)
  • Delay of important projects
  • Suspension of dividends
  • Impact of Government imposed measure/restrictions (e.g. for logistic companies, border closures may impact ability to operate)

 

II.                  Steps taken to address effects of COVID Steps taken to:

  • reduce business/operating cost or cost cutting measures adopted
  • conserve cash and ensure liquidity
  • secure safety of employeesensure business continuity
  • address the immediate impact and ensure future positioning
III.               Future operational and financial status (estimates)
  • Estimation of future impact on the operations
  • Estimated trends in demand for its products/services
  • Expected financial resource needsFuture expectations of financial and operating conditions
  • Any material impairment (e.g. impairment of goodwill)
  • Forecasts for the year
  • Material changes expected during the year
  • Business continuity plans
  • Future operating/ financial long-terms or short-term  strategies to address future risk/challenges
  • Other forward-looking disclosures
IV.               Company Specific Focusing on the sectors in which the company deals in, the impact of crises varies from company to company and shall be assessed accordingly. For example:

  • Closure of unit/factory/company
  • Breach of contract significantly impacting the company’s business

 

The above list is illustrative but not exhaustive and each company will need to carefully assess COVID-19’s impact and related material disclosure obligations.  

Concluding Remarks

In light of the effects and uncertainties created by COVID-19, disclosure about shutdowns and safety measures against COVID will not help the investors in making an informed assessment about the company’s financial position. Timely and adequate information about company’s current operational and financial status with future plans to address the effects of COVID-19 will better equip the investors to make an investment decision. Therefore, the Advisory should not be considered as a mere recommendation of SEBI as a transparent communication by the companies will allow the investors and other stakeholders to evaluate current and expected impact of COVID-19 on company’s businesses, financial and operating conditions and future estimated performance.

[1]https://www.sebi.gov.in/legal/circulars/may-2020/advisory-on-disclosure-of-material-impact-of-covid-19-pandemic-on-listed-entities-under-sebi-listing-obligations-and-disclosure-requirements-regulations-2015_46688.html

[2]https://www.sebi.gov.in/legal/circulars/sep-2015/continuous-disclosure-requirements-for-listed-entities-regulation-30-of-securities-and-exchange-board-of-india-listing-obligations-and-disclosure-requirements-regulations-2015_30634.html

[3] https://www.sec.gov/corpfin/coronavirus-covid-19

[4] https://www.hkex.com.hk/-/media/HKEX-Market/Listing/Rules-and-Guidance/Other-Resources/Listed-Issuers/Joint-Statement-with-SFC/20200204news.pdf

Other reading materials on the similar topic:

  1. ‘Listed company disclosures of impact of the Covid Crisis: Learning from global experience’ can be viewed here
  2. ‘Resources on virtual AGMs’ can be viewed here
  3. ‘COVID-19 – Incorporated Responses | Regulatory measures in view of COVID-19’ can be viewed here
  4. 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