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Resolution Plan Guidelines Favourable for Residential Sector: ICRA
Operating cash flows of real estate developers expected to reduce by around 30-50% in the current fiscal, resulting in higher reliance on refinancing and incremental debt says a report by ICRA
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The RBI has recently released sector-specific leverage and debt-coverage guidelines for determining eligibility for restructuring of stressed loans, including those in the residential real estate sector. Real estate has been identified as one of the more deeply impacted sectors, and consequently, relatively high leverage levels have been permitted for the sector. The required debt coverage levels are, however, similar to those expected across most identified sectors. ICRA has, in its earlier commentaries, maintained that Covid-19 has served a double whammy to the already reeling residential real estate sector in India. With inflows from both new and already booked sales having been adversely impacted, stress levels on developer’s operating cash flows have increased significantly. The ability of developers to meet scheduled repayment obligations in a timely manner would therefore remain closely linked to refinancing or carrying out of one-time restructuring of debt obligations under the recently announced Government relief measure.
Commenting on the same,Mahi Agarwal, Assistant Vice President and Associate Head at ICRA, said, “Developers were already suffering from reduced credit availability post the onset of NBFC liquidity crisis and with Covid-19, the overall liquidity available to the residential real estate sector has reduced further, amidst lender’s concerns on deteriorating asset quality and increasing loan-to-value ratios. In addition, collections and construction-linked disbursements have also witnessed a slowdown due to the weakness in demand and disruption in execution. However, with these guidelines providing for financial headroom, stressed developers are now likely to receive much-needed liquidity support which will aid management of cash flows and allow for completion of slow-moving/stalled projects. The efficacy of the assumptions made by the lender though, particularly with regards to demand risks, will remain a critical determinant of the ultimate success of the restructuring plan.”
As per the resolution plan guidelines, residential developers will need to maintain the following parameters at a project-level in order to be eligible for loan-restructuring:
Financial Parameter Guidelines for Residential Real Estate (at Project Level)
To be met by FY2023
To be met for each year of projected cash flow from FY2022 onwards
If the above parameters are met, the residual tenor of the concerned loan may be extended by up to two years, with or without a payment moratorium, with the asset classification remaining as “standard”. Sanction of additional facilities, and/or conversion of debt to equity or non-convertible debt securities may also be considered.
As per ICRA estimates, the operating cash flows of real estate developers are expected to reduce by around 30-50% in the current fiscal, resulting in higher reliance on refinancing and incremental debt to meet project costs and debt obligations. While many companies have availed moratorium to bring down debt repayments, which, coupled with automatic reduction in collection-linked prepayments, has provided some support in terms of debt coverage levels, developers with a high proportion of slow-moving or stalled projects with significant impending debt repayments are likely to continue facing cash gap issues. A one-time restructuring of debt obligations can provide considerable support for such stressed projects, as deferment of obligations/additional funding to meet the cash gap, with a favourable repayment structure spread over two years, would provide the required liquidity to enable project completion. In fact, the scheme, if successfully implemented, would achieve objectives similar to that of the SWAMIH fund, which has a target corpus of Rs. 25,000 crore to provide debt financing for the completion of stalled projects. The fund has, since its inception in November, 2019, already cleared investments of over Rs. 10,000 crore in 101 projects, and the high volume of proposals that it continues to receive reflects the high requirement for liquidity in the realty sector.
In terms of implementation of the restructuring scheme, lender assumptions on future cash flows, structuring of debt obligations, and accounting policies being followed would be the key look-out areas. Appropriate structuring of repayments, based on expected future cash flows, would be important, as the same would allow for the suggested debt coverage levels to be met and would ultimately enable project completion on the back of the external funds thus provided. Post completion of the project, outside liabilities would reduce, as customer advances would be converted to sales and project creditors would be paid off, leaving external debt as the major outside liability. This, combined with the requirement of most lenders for a 35-40% equity margin on construction funding, would allow for the specified TOL/TNW parameter to also be met within FY2023, provided that the equity has been brought in in the form of promoter funds and not project accruals.
Given buyer preference for completed inventory, sales would also be likely to receive a boost post project completion, which, combined with the reduction in construction out-flows post project completion, would support EBITDA generation to service the increased debt. Lenders would, however, need to ensure that the assumptions made while drawing up future cash flows, particularly with regards to sales, collections, and project progress, are realistic and achievable, in order to avoid a subsequent breach of the defined parameters.
The accounting policy being followed would also have a considerable impact on the projected parameter levels, as projects following project completion method (as would be the case under Ind AS 115) for revenue recognition would record a significant build-up of customer advances as the construction progresses, resulting in high TOL levels, whereas those following percentage completion method would convert customer advances to sales gradually over the construction phase, leading to a lower level of TOL. Active monitoring by the lender would also remain critical for ensuring the ultimate efficacy of the restructuring scheme in enabling project completion and providing relief to stressed developers with intent and operational ability to complete and market the project.
In this context, certain important monitoring tools have already been included as a part of the restructuring scheme, including the routing of project-wise funding through an escrow account. Preventing leakage of project funds through such mechanisms would be important, as any such leakages would possibly result in a breach of the current ratio parameter, with liabilities in the form of customer advances and debt exceeding assets, i.e. - project inventory levels. Notably, the guidelines also permit flexibility to lenders to consider additional parameters, and therefore, typical construction finance covenants, such as loan-to-value and fixed asset cover can be used to increase overall monitoring.
Overall, the provision of this one-time restructuring is expected to be beneficial for stressed developers, with the funding expected to aid project completion. “However, demand risks for the unsold inventory remain significant, and are exacerbated by the ongoing macro-economic weakness. Going forward, the marketability and incremental sale generation from the restructured projects will be another key look-out area, especially given the dependence of final recovery of debt obligations on the same.” added Agarwal.