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Stricter norms in wake of PNB fraud may dry up funding for jewellery industry

The gems and jewellery industry contributes 6-7% of the GDP of the country, besides being an important foreign exchange earner.

business Updated: Feb 20, 2018 17:31 IST
Punjab National Bank,PNB Fraud,jewellery industry
The gems and jewellery industry in India has over 500,000 firms and employs over 2.5 million workers, according to Care Ratings.(Reuters File Photo)

The $1.8 billion fraud at Punjab National Bank (PNB) committed by billionaire jeweller Nirav Modi threatens to dry up funding for India’s gems and jewellery industry, as banks move to tighten their loan processes and seek higher collaterals.

“Getting finance will be hard. The industry is capital-intensive. It is a high-value product industry. Tracking the inventory is also a challenge for the financiers. Prudent financial arrangement should be evolved to avoid such a situation,” Sankar Sen, chairman and MD of Kolkata-based Senco Gold Ltd, said in a phone interview. He is also the chairman of Assocham National Council on Jewellery.

“Indian jewellery industry has two facets — exports and domestic. The domestic industry is essentially small jewellers and they do not take his (Nirav Modi) kind of loans. I don’t think it will have any impact on domestic business. Exporters will have an impact as they won’t get liquidity. I expect the number of compliances to go up,” Sen said.

The stakes are high. The gems and jewellery industry in India has over 500,000 firms and employs over 2.5 million workers, according to Care Ratings. It contributes 6-7% of the GDP of the country, besides being an important foreign exchange earner. According to an SBI official, the country’s largest lender has been shrinking its exposure to the gems and jewellery sector over the past three years.

“The bank typically lends 5-10% of the turnover exposure to the sector. Lending to the sector is a risky business as these are unlisted entities. Their business model with the parent here and offices abroad is questionable. Valuation of these gems is the other biggest issue. Most banks lend based on the promoters’ integrity. The recent PNB scam is likely to have an impact on further lending to this sector,” the official said.

Another official at the bank said banks will do away with interest rate concessions apart from tightening their loan processes, which would mean that the jewellers will have to postpone their expansion plans.

The fraud, in which the diamond jewellery designer allegedly acquired letters of undertaking (LoUs) through fraudulent means for overseas credit from other Indian lenders, is being probed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate, among other agencies.

“Our impression is that no bank gives loan without sufficient collateral. We are surprised at how the bank gave such a loan. It was very bizarre,” Sen of Assocham said. “We are observing this situation before making a representation to the government.”

Most banks are trying to cut exposure to the diamond sector, according to a diamond trader who also spoke on condition of anonymity. “The reason is that everyone knows that the margins are non-existent and the promoters tend to siphon off bank funds elsewhere. Earlier, banks used to lend at 20% collateral of loan value. Now they are demanding anywhere between 60%-100% security against loan, that too as fixed collateral, and if only they are willing to lend to diamond companies at all,” the trader said.

First Published: Feb 19, 2018 07:23 IST