Interview: India's top bank SBI eyes up to $1.5 billion capital raising next fiscal year | Reuters

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By Angeline Ong and Sujata Rao
| DAVOS, Switzerland

DAVOS, Switzerland India's biggest lender by assets, State Bank of India, could tap capital markets next fiscal year to raise up to $1.5 billion, its chief said on Friday, though it first needs to complete a planned merger with its subsidiary banks.In an interview with Reuters on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Arundhati Bhattacharya also said the lender would look to raise funds from stake sales in its life insurance unit that could list in a year to 18 months, and by paring its holding in UTI Asset Management Co, which is also looking to go public."We do plan to raise some capital. However, this is also dependent on the fact that there is a merger that we are planning to do," said Bhattacharya, 60, who has been at the helm of SBI as its chairman since late 2013.SBI, which is merging its five subsidiary banks with itself and also taking over a small state-run lender for women, previously expected the merger to be completed by March. The deals could now get delayed by a quarter, Bhattacharya said, as banks are still busy replacing withdrawn banknotes after India's sudden move in November to cancel 86 percent of its currency. India's fiscal year starts in April."As long as the merger is not over and done with, it could be difficult to approach the capital markets," Bhattacharya said, adding the lender could look to raise between $1 billion and $1.5 billion from the markets.

SBI last sold shares in January 2014 to raise $1.2 billion. Bhattacharya said activities were "slowly getting back to normal" as effects of the banknote ban subside, although it would still take until the end of February to fully gauge the impact.Bhattacharya hoped recent lending rate cuts by banks including SBI, after they were flush with billions of dollars of deposits following the banknote ban, would help "kickstart" credit growth, which is hovering near two-decade lows.

"We feel that credit growth will pick up ... definitely by the second half of next (fiscal) year we should see substantial pick up," she said.Ratings agency Fitch estimates India's banks will need about $90 billion to meet global Basel III rules which are due to be fully implemented by March 2019.Indian banks face a March deadline from the country's central bank to identify and make provisions for the troubled assets.

But Bhattacharya said: "It's unlikely now to be finished by March 2017, but probably in another quarter or two it should be at least many of the large ones would have found some kind of resolution."BNP Paribas Cardif, SBI's partner in its life insurance arm, was no longer interested in picking up 10 percent more in SBI Life at current valuations, Bhattacharya said. The two sides had been in talks over the stake after India allowed higher foreign holdings in the insurance sector. In separate deals, SBI last month agreed to sell stakes in SBI Life to KKR and Temasek($1 = 68.1400 Indian rupees) (Writing and additional reporting by Devidutta Tripathy in Mumbai; Editing by Mark Potter)

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Updated Date: Jan 20, 2017 20:16:15 IST