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'Absence of info, high debt of cities impeding muni bonds market'

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Lack of public information on financial performance, high debt and liabilities of urban local bodies (ULBs) has been hampering development of a vibrant municipal bond market in the country, says a report.

The municipal bond market remains relatively shallow, with a total of 30 issuances to date from several ULBs, amounting to only around Rs 1,700 crore. Moreover, over 75% of the municipal bonds to date were issued before 2006.

"Primary constraint in developing a municipal bond market is the lack of timely and publicly available information on fiscal performance, debt and contingent liabilities, as well as governance and management issues," international rating agency Moody's said in a report yesterday.

These shortcomings have also impeded the ability to assess the creditworthiness of ULBs, thereby limiting investor appetite for municipal bonds, it added.

The report further said restrictions on the maximum interest rates that ULBs can offer and unfavourable rules regarding income tax on interest earned by bondholders has constrain the market's development.

Urban local governments have a weak track record of timely project implementation and completion, which in turn weakens projected cash flows, lowering the perceived credibility of municipal bonds.

"Improved disclosure and greater transparency are a pre requisite for a fully functioning bond market, a divergence is also apparent in disclosure between issuers, with the states showing higher levels than the cities," the report said.

In 2015, market regulator Sebi had introduced a new set of regulations designed to further develop and deepen the municipal bond market. The law primarily requires wider and more timely financial disclosure by ULBs.

"While the introduction of new regulations in 2015 imposing more stringent financial disclosure standards on urban local bodies to issue bonds, their slow implementation reflects the significant challenges that such entities face in meeting minimum disclosure standards," the report noted.

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