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Govt to relax cos listing requirements
June, 09th 2007
In a bid to protect the turf of Indian promoters stake in insurance joint ventures, the government has decided to relax the listing requirements for the companies. Given the skyrocketing valuations of insurers, the Indian promoter can cash in on their stake and reduce holding as determined by market forces.

They will not be required to shed their stake to 26% as prescribed under law. Further, insurance companies will not be under pressure to list within 10 years of their operations as prescribed under the law.

The government will issue a notification spelling out when companies can list. This can be longer than 10 years. It does not have to be a part of the law. Besides, Indian promoters can sell their stake as dictated by market forces. They would rather wait till valuation climb further and then get a better return on their equity, a source close to the development said.

The government is planning to repeal the provision under 6AA of the insurance act. Big Indian promoters have in the past have approached the government in order to buy time. The period of 10 years will now be extended. Considering that insurance companies are still in the red, the current provisions are in conflict with Sebi guidelines, which do not allow companies making losses to charge a premium.

However, exceptions can be made for listing of loss making companies under Sebi norms, provided they meet certain criteria. The government may alter the existing provision that will not spell out the time period or the minimum stakeholding for Indian promoters. It will instead say as prescribed in the law. This provision is because it would mean that the Indian promoter will have to reduce his stake to 26% even as the foreign partner will have 49% holding, should the hike in FDI increase from 26% to 49%, Irda chairman CS Rao said.

Insurance companies which are into their 7th year of operations, might not be ready for going public yet. According to Sebi legislations, a company may list only after three years of registering profits. Typically, insurance business has long gestation periods, more than 10 years to breakeven.

For companies looking to raise capital, they will be allowed to list themselves as and when they are ready. A listing may be necessary in the case of ICICI Prudential. This is because ICICI Bank, as the promoter of ICICI Prudential Life, has 74% ownership of the company.

In turn, ICICI Bank itself has up to 74% ownership by FIIs. Under current regulations, FII holding in one of the partners in the JV translates into a proportionate stake in the insurance company. The upper limit for FII holding in some insurance companies may have been breached already, an analyst pointed out.
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