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India to sell stake in LIC, sets steep divestment target

·2-min read
An exterior view of LIC's headquarters is seen in Mumbai

MUMBAI (Reuters) - The Indian government on Saturday announced its plans to divest a part of its stake in Life Insurance Corp (LIC) in a move that could result in the partial listing of the country's largest insurance company.

Paring its stake in the insurance giant will help the government meet its divestment target, which has been increased to 2.1 trillion rupees ($29.55 billion) in financial year 2021 compared to 1.05 trillion rupees in the current fiscal.

The government currently owns 100% stake in LIC that was set up in 1956. LIC controls a majority share in the life insurance market in India.

Although the government did not give a roadmap for listing LIC, it said that 900 billion rupees will be achieved via stake sales in state-owned banks and financial institutions.

"It will be a big positive for corporate governance and transparency and will open up one more avenue for fund raising for the government over the years," said Krishna Kumar Karwa, managing director of Emkay Global Financial Services.

The government also announced its plans to sell its stake in IDBI Bank, a private lender, in which it owns 47.11% stake which at the current stock price will be valued at approximately 150 billion rupees ($2.11 billion).

IDBI Bank has been weighed down by poor asset quality with its gross non-performing assets standing at 29.4% in the quarter ended Sept. 30, when it also posted a loss of 34.59 billion rupees.

The government also tweaked the personal tax structure in the budget. The revision, which allows individuals to move to a lower tax regime if they do not invest in long-term avenues such as insurance, may end up disincentivizing savings, warned Archit Gupta, CEO of ClearTax, a financial technology company.

The move dented sentiment around shares in insurers, which closed in the red after a special trading session on Saturday.

India, the world's second-biggest gold consumer, also said it plans to set up an International Bullion exchange at the Gujarat International Finance Tec-City, or GIFT City.

This "is a positive step towards making gold a mainstream asset class...An organized bullion trading system will benefit the entire supply chain," said Somasundaram P.R., the managing director of World Gold Council's Indian operations.

($1 = 71 Indian rupees)

(Reporting by Nupur Anand and Rajendra Jadhav; Editing by Angus MacSwan)