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Yes Bank AT1 bonds turned sour due to RBI order: Nippon

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After the AT1 bond write-off, Sebi took a series of steps to prevent fund houses from taking increased exposure to AT1 bonds.

MUMBAI : Nippon India Mutual Fund, which is facing regulatory scrutiny for its decision to invest in Yes Bank’s risky additional tier 1 bonds, said the investment soured because of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) order to write off the bonds in March 2020.

Mint has reviewed a copy of the submission the asset management company, earlier known as Reliance Mutual Fund, made before the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi).

In June 2021, the regulator had first asked the fund house to explain the rationale behind its investment in the controversial AT-1 bonds issued by Yes Bank. The bonds offer higher returns because they can be written off if the bank becomes unviable.

RBI’s restructuring of the fraud-hit Yes Bank involved the write-off of ₹8,415 crore worth of AT- 1 bonds, making them worthless. Of the total funds raised by Yes Bank through the special bonds, about ₹2,000 crore was from institutional investors, including Nippon India Mutual Fund, Franklin Templeton India, Barclays and Kotak Mutual Fund. Nippon’s total investment was roughly 20% of the total issuance. RBI’s move surprised many investors as bondholders are usually given priority over shareholders during a bankruptcy event. The market regulator is probing whether Nippon did a credit assessment before investing in the bonds and whether the investment decision was made on an arm’s length basis, a regulatory official said.

Email queries sent to spokespeople for Sebi and Nippon were not answered.

However, in an exchange filing on 1 April, Nippon said, “Sebi has been asking the company and its executives’ certain information with respect to aforesaid investment as well as information with respect to certain third parties, as may be available with us. The company and its executives are constantly working along with its legal advisers to assist the regulator.”

In the representation to Sebi, the fund house said the write-off was a ‘historic event’ that could have never been anticipated at the time of investment. Nippon added there were no red flags in the bank’s financials and that it serviced its coupons (debt obligations) till as late as December 2019. “We would venture a guess that even Sebi had not contemporaneously anticipated or foreseen such possibility because otherwise, Sebi would have warned the industry and taken steps to prevent harm to investors,” Nippon said.

After the AT1 bond write-off, Sebi took a series of steps to prevent fund houses from taking increased exposure to AT1 bonds. It also blocked AT1 bonds for retail investors. “Sebi’s mandate is to protect the interest of investors and the securities market. If the market existed at a given point in time to encourage investors in particular instruments, this is an important factor for Sebi to look into,” said Sumit Agrawal, founding partner, Regstreet Law Advisors.