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RBI tells banks to cut liquid mutual funds exposure
May, 16th 2011

The flow of money from banks into liquid schemes could be lower than what asset management companies have estimated, if a rule capping lenders' investments in this mutual fund product becomes effective later in 2011. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has advised banks, specifically ones which own mutual funds, to keep investments in liquid funds "well below" the new limit of 10% of their networth after October, said two people familiar with the matter.

This will force banks to focus more on raising funds through individual fixed deposits and mutual funds to turn to retail clients to build assets under management. Banks have been accused of sharing a cosy relationship with mutual funds to meet their money requirement. Capital markets regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India has repeatedly pushed mutual funds to build a business based on retail portfolios rather than institutional money.

An RBI official is said to have conveyed the central bank's thinking to top bank executives soon after it announced this investment restriction in its monetary policy review on May 3. Though the RBI did not specify the extent to which banks need to bring down their investments in liquid schemes, executives are interpreting the unofficial "limit" as 5-6% of lenders' networth, said a banker familiar with the matter, requesting anonymity.

"It would be ideal that they (banks) maintain their holding within the 10% mark or level," said a source. The RBI is said to have also told bank officials to cut exposure to liquid schemes in a phased manner over the next five months rather than redeem the entire amount just before the new limit comes to effect.

An email query to RBI on this matter did not elicit a response.

The revised investment limit will be based on the banking industry's total networth on March 31, 2011.

The mutual fund industry estimates banks' total networth on this date between Rs 3 lakh crore and Rs 4 lakh crore.

At 10% of the networth, banks' money flow into liquid schemes will be capped at Rs 30,000-40,000 crore after October. Currently, banks' investments in liquid schemes is about Rs 90,000 crore, fund managers said.

If banks decide to cap the investments in liquid schemes at 5% of their networth, the mutual fund industry may end up getting only about Rs 15,000-20,000 crore. Total assets under management was Rs 7.85 lakh crore on April 30.

"The message is very clear. RBI wants banks to keep exposure to liquid schemes to the minimum and wants to break the comfortable dependence that banks and mutual funds enjoyed," said a top mutual fund industry official, aware of the development.

Banks park their surplus money in liquid schemes, which invest in debt securities of duration less than a year, including certificates of deposits issued by banks, commercial papers from companies, treasury bills and the collateralised lending and borrowing obligation (CBLO) market, for quick returns. These funds, in turn, lend to banks in the overnight CBLO market. Mutual funds are also among the major investors in certificate of deposits.

"Such circular flow of funds between banks and DoMFs (debt-oriented mutual funds) could lead to systemic risk in times of stress/liquidity crunch. Thus, banks could potentially face a large liquidity risk," RBI said in the circular on May 3.

Among top banks in the country, State Bank of India , ICICI Bank , Axis Bank , Canara and Punjab National Bank , among others, have mutual fund subsidiaries.

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