New Minimum Public Shareholding Requirements For Indian Companies

On 4 June 2010, the Indian government revised the minimum public shareholding requirements applicable to listed Indian companies through an amendment to the Securities Contracts (Regulations) Rules, 1957 (”Amendment”). Henceforth, all listed companies are required to have a minimum public shareholding of 25%. The amendment also makes it mandatory for all companies intending to get listed on Indian stock exchanges to offer at least 25% of their paid up capital in an initial public offering (“IPO”), except for companies with a post issue paid up capital of over Rs. 4,000 crores (approximately USD 900 million), which may offer at least 10% of their paid up capital in an IPO and increase public shareholding to 25% over a three year period. Prior to the Amendment, while most Indian companies offered 25% of their share capital in an IPO, some companies benefitted from an exemption in the Securities Contracts (Regulations) Rules, 1957 (“the Rules”), which allowed them to issue (and maintain on a continuous basis post listing) 10% of their share capital subject to compliance with certain conditions. This exemption is no longer available.

The proposal to increase the minimum public shareholding requirement to 25% was first circulated by the Ministry of Finance in February 2008. The Amendment is expected to bring greater liquidity in the Indian stock markets, particularly benefiting small investors. The Amendment also is expected to check price manipulation by entities a holding majority stake in a company with low public shareholding. The greater the number of shares and shareholders, the less the opportunity for price manipulation. Lastly, reducing the concentration of ownership in listed Indian companies is expected to result in ancillary benefits, such as enhanced corporate governance the increased presence of minority shareholders.

“Public” is defined in the Amendment to mean persons other than promoters, promoter group, subsidiaries, or associates of the company. The terms ‘promoter’ and ‘promoter group’ are in turn defined in the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Issue of Capital and Disclosure Requirements) Regulations, 2009 ( “ICDR Regulations”). “Promoter Group” is defined in the ICDR Regulations to include promoters of the company, immediate relatives of the promoters, any subsidiary or holding company of the promoter, and any company in which the promoter holds more than 10% of the equity share capital or any company that holds 10% of the equity share capital of the promoter, provided that any financial institution or foreign institutional investor would not be deemed to be a promoter merely because such investor holds ten percent or more of the company.

“Public Shareholding” is defined in the Amendment to mean equity shares of the company held by the “public” and excludes shares held by a domestic custodian against depositary receipts issued overseas. Thus, shares issued by listed Indian companies to depositories in connection with the issue of global depositary receipts (“GDRs) or American depositary receipts (“ADRs”) will not be taken into account while computing the total public shareholding in a company. The rationale for this appears to be management control over voting rights on shares issued to depositories. A recent working paper issued by the Securities and Exchange Board of India (“SEBI”) shows that several Indian companies that issued GDRs/ ADRs to foreign investors have retained voting rights on shares issued to depositories.

The Impact on Indian companies

The Amendment impacts Indian companies, listed and unlisted, as follows:

Companies intending to list on Indian stock exchanges

The Amendment requires companies planning to list on Indian stock exchanges to offer at least 25% of each class or kind of equity shares or debentures convertible into equity shares in an IPO to the public. However, where the post issue share capital of the company (calculated at the IPO price) is more than Rs. 4,000 crores (approximately USD 900 million), the company may offer at least 10% of its share capital to the public in an IPO provided that the company increases its public shareholding to 25% within three years from the date of listing the shares on a stock exchange by offering at least 5% share capital to the public per annum. Further, such annual increase in public shareholding may be for less than 5% if it brings its public shareholding to 25% in the relevant year.

Companies that have filed a draft offer document with SEBI

In an Indian IPO, a company is required to file a draft red herring prospectus (“DRHP”) with SEBI, for comment. Typically SEBI takes between one to three months to provide its observations on the DRHP. Once all SEBI observations have been incorporated into the DRHP, the company can file the red herring prospectus with SEBI and the Registrar of Companies and open the IPO. The Amendment allows unlisted companies, which have filed the DRHP with SEBI on or before the date of the Amendment, to offer at least 10% of their share capital in an IPO provided (i) a minimum of two million securities are offered to the public (excluding reservations and promoter contribution); (ii) the minimum issue size is Rs. 100 crores (approximately USD 22 million); and (iii) the issue is made through the book building method with 60% of the issue size allocated to qualified institutional buyers (i.e., mutual funds, scheduled commercial banks, foreign institutional investors). Again, such companies are required to increase the minimum public shareholding to 25% within three years from the date of listing of such shares on a stock exchange by offering at least 5% share capital to the public per annum, provided that such annual increase in public shareholding may be for less than 5% if it brings its public shareholding to 25% in the relevant year.

Listed companies

Post Amendment, all listed companies are required to maintain a minimum public shareholding of 25% of their share capital. Listed companies with less than 25% public shareholding are required to increase the public shareholding to 25% by offering at least 5% share capital to the public per annum, provided that such annual increase in public shareholding may be for less than 5% if it brings its public shareholding to 25% in the relevant year. Press reports indicate that there are about 180 listed Indian companies with less than 25% public shareholding.

Increasing Public Shareholding

Listed companies may increase minimum public shareholding to 25% in several different ways, including any of the following:

  • Further public offer (“FPO) – a further public offer is defined in ICDR Regulations to mean an offer of shares or securities convertible into equity shares by a listed company to the public. FPOs include a rights issue made under the ICDR Regulations. In order to comply with the revised minimum public shareholding norms, listed companies may opt to issue fresh shares to the public through a further public offer under the ICDR Regulations.
  • Qualified institutional placement (“QIP”) – listed companies may allot shares or securities convertible into equity shares to qualified institutional buyers on a private placement basis pursuant to ICDR Regulations. Allotments through the QIP route can be made to less than 50 qualified institutional buyers only. Listed companies may make a fresh issue of equity shares to public shareholders to increase the minimum public shareholding to 25%.
  • Direct sale by promoters to public – promoters may sell their shares in a listed company to public shareholders either (i) on a stock exchange through a block deal (minimum sale of 500,000 shares or shares worth approximately USD 1.1 million through a single transaction) or a bulk deal (sale of more than 0.5% of the number of equity shares of a company in one or more transactions executed during the day), or (ii) through negotiated off-market sale. A sale by promoters may trigger disclosure requirements for the purchaser/ acquirer under the SEBI (Prohibition of Insider Trading) Regulations, 1992, and SEBI (Substantial Acquisition of Shares and Takeovers) Regulations, 1997 (“Takeover Code”), if the acquirer’s shareholding crosses specified thresholds. Purchase of shares from promoters may also trigger open offer requirements under the Takeover Code if an acquirer exercises more than 15% voting rights in the company. Promoters also may opt to make an offer for sale of their shareholding to the public in accordance with the ICDR Regulations.

Conclusion

While the proposal for revising minimum public shareholding norms was first suggested in 2008, the Amendment came as a surprise to many listed companies. It is expected that as a result of the Amendment several further public offers may be launched in the coming years by listed companies in order to increase the minimum public shareholding to 25% of their share capital, even though markets may not have the appetite to absorb additional offers. A glut of public offers also may adversely impact valuations because companies may be required to issue more shares at lower prices. Lastly, shares issued to a custodian of depositary receipts are excluded from the definition of “public shareholding.” Thus, listed companies that do not comply with the 25% public shareholding norms have little incentive to issue ADRs/ GDRs. Any such issuance will only increase non-public shareholding in the company.

Ajit Sharma is a Senior Associate in the International Capital Markets practice at Trilegal’s Mumbai office. Prior to joining Trilegal, Ajit was an associate in the International Capital Markets practice at Dorsey & Whitney’s London office. Vardaan Ahluwalia is an Associate in the Banking and Finance practice at Trilegal’s Mumbai office. Vardaan is a graduate of National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata. Ajay and Vardaan can be contacted at ajit.sharma@trilegal.com and vardaan.ahluwalia@trilegal.com, respectively.

 

 

by Ajit Sharma and Vardaan Ahluwalia

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