• Hybrid annuity road projects face financial closure hurdles

    Some of the road projects under the new hybrid annuity model (HAM) that attracted aggressive bidding this fiscal year are struggling to achieve financial closure as banks remain cautious, developers and analysts said.

    Under HAM, the government commits up to 40% of the project cost over a period and hands the project to the developer. The developer has to fund the balance with debt and equity, and is paid annuity income in instalments. The model was designed to make it safe for banks and investors.

    Satish Parakh, managing director at roads developer Ashoka Buildcon Ltd, said some lenders are “not happy” with the hybrid annuity model. “Some of the banks are refusing to finance on the basis of those documents, and only a few banks are coming forward for the hybrid annuity model. They have some reservations which they are discussing with the NHAI. The other part is that some companies are finding it difficult to put equity,” said Parakh said. He added the company had achieved financial closure of its HAM project.

    Like all public-private-partnership (PPP) projects, HAM projects too are facing issues with financial closure, said K. Ramchand, managing director, IL&FS Transportation Networks Ltd (ITNL). ITNL, which has the largest portfolio of build, operate and transfer (BOT) road projects, has bid for HAM projects in various states but not announced a win so far.

    Out of the 26 HAM projects awarded this fiscal, about four-five could get scrapped due to inability of the developer to invest equity or bring in debt, said an analyst, asking not to be named as he is not authorized to speak to reporters. Large banks such as State Bank of India (SBI) and Axis Bank are selectively funding HAM projects even as many companies continue to bid for and win such projects, according to this analyst. SBI and Axis Bank did not respond to email queries sent on Thursday.

    “Earlier, banks were slightly reluctant with funding hybrid annuity projects, especially for developers with weak balance sheets and lack of construction experience. They (banks) were taking longer time than usual to assess HAM projects as they wanted to understand the new business model. However, in the recent weeks, a lot of companies including Welspun, MEP Infra and Sadbhav have been able to achieve financial closure for their hybrid annuity projects,” said IIFL Wealth analyst Alok Deora.

    On 2 December, Deora had said in a report that certain small developers had failed to receive financial closure for their HAM projects, which were consequently cancelled.

    The government’s push for new low-risk HAM awards to kick-start private sector investments has led to the emergence of a number of smaller, regional companies that have added to the sector’s competitive intensity, according to road developers and analysts. The increase in awards of projects under the government-funded engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) model too has driven up bidding aggression.

    Companies including Sadbhav Infrastructure Projects Ltd, Welspun Enterprises Ltd, and Ashoka Buildcon have been able to tie up loans and submit their financial closure details to NHAI. MEP Infrastructure Developers Ltd has been able to achieve financial closure for two of its projects with two others yet to be closed, while PNC Infratech Ltd and Dilip Buildcon Ltd are expecting to achieve financial closure by March. Some other companies such as MBL Infrastructures Ltd, APCO Infratech Pvt. Ltd, Oriental Structural Engineers Pvt. Ltd and GR Infraprojects Ltd, are yet to achieve financial closure of their won projects, according to channel checks of the firms.

    “A concern in the roads sector today is that there is huge aggression even though the number of players is less. The job being bid out are quite large, but theirs is no comfortable participation and instead, there is a lot of aggression. And that will lead to execution challenges,” Ashoka Buildcon’s Parakh said.

    Road projects in India have always been awarded in one of the three formats—BOT annuity, BOT toll and EPC. In BOT annuity, a developer builds a highway, operates it for a specified duration and transfers it to the government, which pays the developer annuity over the concession period. Under BOT toll, a concessionaire generates revenue from the toll levied on vehicles using a road. In EPC, the developer builds with government money.

    India has set a target to award 25,000km of road projects in FY17 under the ministry of road transport and highways and National Highway Authority of India (NHAI), compared to 10,000km achieved in FY16. Josh Norman Jersey

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