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'Temasek won't control ICICI'

ICICI shares will remain widely held and the lender may not have a controlling shareholder, says its chief executive KV Kamath.

business Updated: Jun 24, 2007 23:05 IST

ICICI shares will remain widely held and the lender is not likely to have a controlling shareholder, the chief executive of India's second-biggest bank said on Sunday.

"Nobody has a controlling stake. The shares are widely held," ICICI Bank Chief Executive KV Kamath told Reuters in an interview on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum.

He said investor talk that Temasek Holdings or the Government of Singapore Investment Corp (GIC) could accumulate a controlling stake in ICICI "is purely speculative".

Temasek owned a 7.37 per cent stake in the Indian lender, while GIC owned 2.24 per cent before ICICI's latest $4.9 billion share sale.

Investments in Indian banks are capped at 5 per cent, but Kamath said that India's government had allowed Temasek to buy more than 5 per cent in the bank as part of an economic agreement with Singapore.

The two state-owned investors have been lobbying India's government and regulators to lift an investment limit that prevents them from owning more than a combined 10 per cent stake in an Indian bank.

He added that he did not expect the bank to enter into a partnership with a large foreign bank, in the way that international financial institutions have invested in Chinese banks.

"That is not on our map," he said, adding that at this stage he does not see foreign banks buying stakes in Indian banks because of regulatory restrictions.

But Kamath said he does see room for consolidation among the country's banks and that building scale was one of the biggest challenges facing the sector.

ICICI has expanded its international operation because of demand from Indians working abroad and because of Indian companies' foreign expansion drive.

Kamath said its international business made up 18 per cent of its book, a figure that would climb to 25-30 per cent by 2010. However, the bank is not looking for acquisitions and will focus on growing its business organically.

Rising domestic interest rates have so far not impacted the quality of ICICI's loan book, a third of which is made up of mortgages.

"So far, we are not seeing any particular impact on the quality of our assets," he said.

Indian banks have been riding strong loan growth as companies expand and Indians spend on cars in a booming economy. But rising interest rates have raised investor concern over defaults.

Data released on Friday showed that Indian wholesale price inflation unexpectedly eased to its lowest in 14 months, and analysts said the fall would give the central bank leeway to leave rates unchanged at its next monetary policy review.

The central bank has raised interest rates five times in the past year, the last time at the end of March, with the key lending rate at 7.75 per cent.