India will likely give up direct control of its most-profitable state-run behemoths as Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeks to keep the budget deficit in check, while reviving investments to spur economic growth.
The government has identified the biggest energy companies such as Oil & Natural Gas Corp., Indian Oil Corp., NTPC Ltd. and GAIL India Ltd. as probable candidates for cutting its direct holding to below 51 per cent, Atanu Chakraborty, who steers Modi’s asset sale department, said in an interview Monday in New Delhi. “Government’s indirect holding, through arms such as Life Insurance Corp. of India, will stay above 51%.”
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman last week set a record Rs 1.05 trillion ($15 billion) asset sales target in the year started April 1, while proposing to raise taxes on the wealthy, extract higher dividends from the central bank and increase duties on gold and gasoline to boost revenue and lower the budget gap to 3.3% of gross domestic product. The proposal to lower direct holdings in some state-run companies below 51% was also part of Sitharaman’s budget proposals, which she said would be considered on “case-to-case basis.”
“The government has to consider bringing in strategic investors and give them a say in the management,” said Deven Choksey, managing director at K.R. Choksey Shares and Securities Pvt. in Mumbai. “That will spur growth of these companies.” The index for state-run companies on BSE Ltd. has gained 3.5% so far this year compared to a 7.1% gain in the broader benchmark S&P BSE Sensex. Indian Oil shares on Tuesday added 4.6%, while ONGC rose 0.1% and NTPC slid 0.3% as of 12:45 p.m. in Mumbai.
In 2017, then-Finance Minister Arun Jaitley aimed to create an integrated public sector oil major to match the might of the international oil and gas giants by combining some or all of its stakes in listed domestic oil and gas firms.
ONGC in January 2018 completed buying the government’s 51.1% stake in Hindustan Petroleum Corp. for $5.78 billion, helping the government to narrow the nation’s budget gap. Some of the state stake sales will happen this year, Chakraborty, secretary at the Department of Investment and Public Asset Management, said. Exchange-traded funds are the most attractive route, he said.