Thursday, April 27, 2017

SMEs' Access to Equity Markets

SMEs Access to Capital Markets in India
It took almost a decade since the SME Exchange has been formalised to see 60 floats in a month. Still the total number of listings on the SME bourses is not something that the growing Indian economy can be proud of.
In India, most SMEs operate in debt markets. Cost of raising debt for SMEs is increasingly becoming problematic both from the points of adequacy and timeliness and most often banks remove the umbrella in times of either too hot Sun or heavy downpour. But in a digital world simplifying businesses in the small sector also demands investments where the returns come gradually and not at the pace at which a financial institution extending credit demands. It is therefore necessary for the firms in the sector to look for enhancing equity.
Debt is cumbersome and equity is costly. Later is better choice if the SME has a modicum of discipline as creditors armed with amended SARFAESI Act 2016 and Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code are likely to be draconian. But such access demands of SMEs, better financial discipline, healthy balance sheets, and good governance.  Scale of operation also matters for access to equity markets. Most often, The enterprise should have the habit of monitoring its debtors and creditors on a continuing basis and make finance a slave and not master of its operations.
“Need for Equity financing”
While SMEs face challenges in accessing credit, they may also lack awareness of equity as an alternate source of financing. The nascent financing requirements for a start-up are met by informal financing from friends and family. Such seed money invested in a small business is in the nature of equity but is not formally recognised as such in SMEs without a formal legal structure.
Even for start-ups that are more aware, the creation of a formalised venture often requires the aid of incubators and angel investors that provide financing and other services. Further scale-up then requires higher amount of capital, which is typically provided by venture capital funds. Apart from equity capital, the venture also needs debt for working capital.
Access to equity financing has been examined in detail in the Report of the Committee on Angel Investment and Early Stage Venture Capital (Mitra Committee), June 2012. The key issues are related to differential taxation of investments, and the need for certain enablers to expand the availability of equity capital for early stage companies. Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) The SME platform of the Exchange is intended for small and medium sized companies with high growth potential. The SME platform of the Exchange shall be open for SMEs whose post issue paid up capital shall be less than or equal to Rs.25 crores.
Across countries, the SME sector has thrived primarily on the back of access to financing through various facilities such as government-backed guarantees, credit insurance for export oriented units and schemes for equity financing. These facilities are supplemented by institutional infrastructure for advocacy, technical research, refinancing platforms and easy access to services. Both BSE and NSE of India have launched their versions of SME exchange in 2012.
BCB Finance Ltd (BSE) and EMERGE (NSE) are the two equity platforms. SMEs being small companies are at the beginning of their growth cycle and are also at the extreme end of the risk curve – very high levels of return are accompanied by very high levels of risk.
SMEs on the growth curve invariably look for easy access to capital. FDIs are also allowed for investing in SMEs up to 25% of equity without any prior approvals. In the emerging market scenario, where mergers and acquisitions have been increasingly surfacing, firms both in India and abroad have been looking for such options for expansion. But for this to happen, SMEs should have strong equity base and the SME exchange route is a safe option to access capital markets.
Facilitation for SMEs:
The two distinct advantages of using dedicated SME platforms are: easy listing norms; and IPO listing norms are simple. For an investor, it becomes easier to search from segregated stocks as there will be limited number of firms.
However, trading pick up has been slow. This has to improve only with the Market makers using some proprietary funds only for the purpose of supporting stocks through two way quotes on daily basis and hold a minimum specified amount of capital or stock in the SME. Confidence building in the exchange for small firms is extremely important at the moment. Minimum lot size is Rs. 1lakh.
Investors need to understand SME business risks and corporate governance principles and there is need for capacity building on this count.
A minimum preparation of six months is imperative for firms to access capital through this route and handholding has to be done by the EMERGE-like firms. Till November 25th 2016, BSE data reveals that while 161 firms with a Market Cap of Rs,16,155cr, raising Rs.1257 cr., 18 (12%) have migrated to the Main Board. No SME has been suspended till date.
Prabhat Kumar Committee on MSMEs while examining this issue categorically recommended that the SMEs on growth path proposing to access equity markets should be provided incentives. A few of them appear to be akin to some international practices in USA, UK, Israel, European nations, Turkey and China.
The Committee recommends that (i) the Government should meet a part of expenditure of SMEs incurred by them in the initial listing of their equity on the SME exchanges. This part reimbursement of listing expenditure could either be limited up to 50% of the total listing expenditure or Rs.I0 Lakhs whichever is lower; (ii) the Government should provide tax exemption for the investments in IPOs of SME companies under section 80C of the Income Tax Act 1961 within the overall prevailing ceiling limit of Rs. 1,50,000/-; (iii) establishing a separate 'SME Equity Investment Fund' by the Ministry of MSME to be managed by a professionally run entity of fund managers.
The government may also introduce a provision for Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to allow a group of angel investors to come together as an SPV and then invest in manufacturing start-ups. Even though angel investments are generally in a group, there is no provision to create an SPV for the same, so all individuals have to invest separately, leading to a large number of shareholders, which becomes an impediment for raising further funding from institutional investors.
Telangana Industrial Health Clinic Ltd., in the offing with 10% of corpus fund of Rs.100cr coming from the state government has in prospect a window to encourage manufacturing SME start ups to go to equity markets under a tie-up with the NSE-EMERGE with initial contribution of up to Rs.50lakhs or 10% of the float whichever is lower. The firm has a risk balancing model.
*The author is an economist and risk management specialist, presently serving as Adviser, MSME sector, Government of Telangana. The views are personal.