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Bond vigilantes worry too much: Veteran banker shrugs off fiscal concerns

Gautam, a banker for nearly thirty-five years, is counting on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's administration's past fiscal-track record

Subhadip Sircar & Divya Patil | Bloomberg 

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Ashok Gautam is betting that India will achieve its fiscal-deficit target this year. That makes him something of a rare breed among investors in the nation’s bond market.

Gautam, a for nearly thirty-five years, is counting on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration’s past fiscal-track record, which shows it can generate funds to plug revenue gaps. That, he said, would remove a major impediment to a debt rally, which could see the benchmark 10-year yield slip to near a three-year low as the Reserve Bank of India cuts rates further.

“The government has the room to generate resources,” Gautam, executive director and head of treasury at IDBI Bank Ltd., said in an interview. “They have done it in the past, and going forward, they will use other avenues to mop up any revenue shortfall.”

Fiscal concerns have come to the fore as the government announced a surprise $20 billion tax break for companies last month amid already sluggish growth in tax revenue. Hamstrung by fears of larger market borrowings to bridge the gap, the nation’s benchmark bonds posted their first back-to-back monthly loss in a year in September, with the 10-year yield climbing 33 basis points in the period.

An internal government assessment has estimated a gross tax revenue shortfall of Rs 2 trillion ($28.3 billion) compared with the budgeted figures, the Business Standard newspaper reported last week.

For its part, Modi’s administration is making efforts to raise funds via divestments, including stake sales in major state-run oil companies, an electrical firm and a national air carrier, among others.

The government stuck to its Oct.-March borrowing plan despite the reduction in corporate taxes and shelving of a planned maiden overseas bond sale. It raised Rs 850 billion selling stakes in public-sector firms in 2018-19, exceeding the divestment target of 800 billion rupees.

“Hopes are high that total sales could outdo the budgeted target of Rs 1.05 trillion, a rerun of FY18, and help to narrow the anticipated tax shortfall,” Eugene Leow, a fixed-income strategist at DBS Bank Ltd. in Singapore, wrote in a recent note.

Gautam, who joined IDBI Bank this year after stints at Axis Bank Ltd. and State Bank of India -- the nation’s largest lender -- said the government could seek extra dividends from public-sector firms and institutions.

Safer securities like government bonds made up about Rs 664 billion, or nearly 75% of IDBI’s total investment portfolio at the end of June. That’s after a high proportion of bad loans saw the central bank place curbs on its lending activities.

Gautam expects the 10-year yield to decline to 6.3% or lower by end-March, a decline of about 20 basis points from Tuesday’s close. The yield slid to a three-year low of 6.25% in July.

First Published: Wed, October 30 2019. 07:20 IST
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