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India seeks regulatory fast track for LIC as it gears up for the country's biggest IPO

The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has been urged to complete its vetting process in less than three weeks instead of the 75 days it usually requires, two government sources with knowledge of the matter said.

January 28, 2022 / 12:41 PM IST

The Indian government has asked regulators for a swift review of Life Insurance Corporation's draft prospectus, two government sources with knowledge of the matter said - as it pulls out all the stops to have the country's biggest IPO completed by the end of March.

The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has been urged to complete its vetting process in less than three weeks instead of the 75 days it usually requires, they said.

"We have 10 bankers for the deal. They are available 24/7 for any questions SEBI might have," said one of the government officials, adding that a "clean" draft prospectus would be submitted.

Also Read: LIC IPO in early March, Neelachal Ispat Nigam sale soon: DIPAM Secretary

The official also said the government's divestment department was solely focused on the IPO for the giant state-backed insurer from which it hopes to gain as much as $12 billion, and had put aside other privatisation plans for this fiscal year.

Also Read: LIC IPO: Decoding the metrics, products and terms in life insurance that matter for investors

The draft prospectus is likely to be submitted to SEBI in the next few days, said the sources, who were not authorised to speak to media and declined to be identified.

The finance ministry, SEBI and LIC did not respond to Reuters requests for comment.

Having pledged numerous times to list LIC by the end of the financial year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's administration is keen to avoid any loss of face and gain further momentum for its privatisation programme aimed at replenishing government coffers.

LIC, which has nearly $500 billion in assets and commands more than 65 percent of India's market for life insurance policies, too is sparing no effort to ensure its IPO is a success.

In addition to heavy advertising in local newspapers, some 1.2 million field agents have been dispatched across India to woo many of its more than 250 million policyholders into becoming retail investors for the first time. Policyholders have also received a text message recommending they open an electronic stock holding account early so they can take part in the IPO.

How successful any LIC stock sale will be, however, remains an open question.

The government is keen to garner as much as $12 billion from the IPO. Selling 5 percent of LIC's stock to gain that amount would be one indication of success but the government is also willing to consider selling as much as 10 percent, government and banking sources have said.

"We have never seen an issue size of this proportion in the Indian market and even though we know a company like LIC will garner attention, it may not be that easy," said a Mumbai-based investment banker working on the IPO.

"There are still a lot of moving pieces to it to make this IPO a success," he added.

With LIC a household name in India, bankers working on the IPO say they are confident of robust demand from retail investors, but the strength of institutional demand will be key.

Much of LIC's financials, including its 'embedded value' - a measure of future cash flow for life insurance companies and the key financial gauge for insurers, have yet to be disclosed.

Many investors are also likely to be concerned that the LIC's investment decisions including those in loss-making state companies could be influenced by government demands.

first published: Jan 28, 2022 12:41 pm