India to raise foreign investment limit in $60 bln insurance sector

Thu Jul 10, 2014 9:35am EDT
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By Sumeet Chatterjee and Devidutta Tripathy

MUMBAI, July 10 (Reuters) - India's new government plans to nearly double the proportion of foreign investment allowed in the $60 billion insurance business to 49 percent, a potential lifeline for a sector starved of capital and squeezed by regulations.

The proposal, which requires the approval of both houses of parliament, would bring foreign investment worth up to $2 billion into the sector within a year of its implementation, industry officials estimated on Thursday.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said in his maiden budget speech that the "composite cap" in the insurance sector should be increased to 49 per cent from the current level of 26 per cent, with full Indian management and control.

"The insurance sector is investment starved. Several segments of the insurance sector need an expansion," he said.

While industry executives sought clarity on whether the composite cap meant foreigners would be allowed to own up to 49 percent through foreign direct investment and foreign portfolio investment, they welcomed the long-pending move.

"It will attract more investors. There are some strategic investors who are very clear about owning 49 percent at least," said Amitabh Chaudhry, CEO of HDFC Life, a joint venture between Indian mortgage lender Housing Development Finance Corp Ltd and Britain's Standard Life.

"The fact that the government within six weeks of coming to power has made it clear that that's what they intend to do is a good sign," he said, adding Standard Life will look at raising its stake from 26 percent in the joint venture.

Other foreign insurers including Canada's Sun Life Financial Inc, Prudential Plc, Nippon Life Insurance Co, Italy's Generali and Dutch insurer Aegon NV operate in India through joint ventures with local companies.   Continued...