MFs may Have to Cut Single Co Exposure-SEBI

Sebi feels current limit is quite high after it found a few funds are holding lower-rated papers in a big way; seeks information from some fund houses on their exposure to certain specific sectors and papers which got downgraded

The Securities and Exchange Board of India is planning to tighten rules on mutual funds' investments in corporate debt paper in the wake of concern over excessive credit risk in certain fixed income portfolios. The market regulator is looking to lower mutual funds' investment limit for an individual company's debt security.
At present, a mutual fund scheme is not allowed to invest more than 15% of its net asset value in debt instruments issued by a single issuer which are rated not below investment grade by a credit rating agency. This limit however can be raised to 20% with prior approval of the trustees.

Now, the regulator feels this limit is quite high after it found that a few mutual funds were holding lowly-rated papers in a big way.

“Sebi rules on investment restrictions were framed when the supply of papers were less. But today, many papers are coming to the market. There is a need to re-look at the policies,“ said a person familiar with development.

A recent instance where two debt schemes of JP Morgan Asset Management India Treasury Fund and India Short Term Income Fundtook a hit due to its exposure to auto ancillary company Amtek Auto is also prompting Sebi to act.Both these schemes have a total exposure of Rs 200 crore or about 6 % of the total AUM in debt papers issued by the company .

After top credit rating agencies downgraded its rating on Amtek Auto, JP Morgan was forced to `mark-to-market' the value of the fund in line with the few credit rating, resulting in the scheme's returns getting eroded. Now, JP Morgan stares at the prospect of a default as the paper's tenure will expire in mid-September.

“Fund managers should not make investment decision solely based on ratings but they should do their own due-diligence because issuers do rating-shopping,“ the person said.

Sebi feels the recent development cannot be overlooked as a one-off case. The regulator has sought information from some fund houses on their exposure to certain specific sectors and papers which have got downgraded.

Rules do not allow fund houses to take exposure of more than 40% to non-banking finance companies. Sebi has informally asked mutual funds not to take exposure to risky real estate papers.

Last week, Sebi once again asked fund houses to avoid taking excessive exposure to a particular sector or a company. The regulator had conveyed such concern through industry body Association of Mutual Funds of India (AMFI) in mid-August.

It has asked fund houses to evolve an internal risk assessment mechanism to assess risk in the portfolio and will be meeting the risk management team of fund houses to understand their practices.

Mutual fund industry officials said Sebi is taking these steps to ensure that the industry does not land up in a mess as seen in October 2008--soon after the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Then, several mutual funds had huge exposure to risky papers and the global liquidity crisis precipitated the issue.Though the holdings of lowlyrated papers are lower this time, Sebi is worried about the possibility of a cascading effect within the industry sparked by mass redemptions.

The Economic Times, New Delhi, 7th Sept. 2015

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