Revised threshold of Rs. 1000 Crore for ‘material’ RPTs under LODR – Does it pass the Article 14 test

Background

SEBI[1] has recently revised the materiality threshold for obtaining shareholder approval for related party transactions (“RPTs”) under Regulation 23(1) of the SEBI (LODR) Regulations, 2015 (“LODR”), to cover RPTs that exceed INR 1000 crore or 10% of a listed entity’s annual consolidated turnover (as per the last audited financial statements), whichever is lower.

The revised materiality threshold has come into effect on April 1, 2022, and this change assumes significance, as prior to April 1, 2022, there was no absolute numerical threshold for RPTs that require shareholders’ approval.

This also raises the question as to whether an absolute numerical threshold of INR 1000 crore could potentially be considered as violative of Article 14 of the Indian Constitution.

In this post, the authors aim to probe deeper into this constitutional aspect and examine some of the arguments that can be made from both sides of the spectrum.

Continue Reading Revised threshold of Rs. 1000 Crore for ‘material’ RPTs under LODR – Does it pass the Article 14 test?

Indian Mutual Funds – New M&A Rules! Anu Tiwari (Partner), Ritu Sajnani (Senior Associate), Utkarsh Bhatnagar (Senior Associate) and Karthik Koragal (Associate) The Securities Exchange Board of India (“SEBI”) carried out a regulatory revamp exercise of SEBI (Mutual Funds) Regulations, 1996 (“MF Regulations”) and various circulars issued under it by way of a circular on mutual fund(s) (“MF”) issued on March 4, 2021 (“MF Circular”), effective from March 5, 2021, thereby streamlining a robust regime governing the reporting, compliance and disclosure requirements applicable to asset management company(ies) (“AMC”) and the trustee(s) of such AMCs. Reporting requirements strengthened Currently, the MF Circular requires an AMC to furnish the complete details of any indirect change in its control/ promoters of the sponsor(s) to SEBI and also notify details of a proposed change in control (whether direct or indirect) to the unitholders, by way of an email (in addition to publishing the same in newspapers. Similarly, in case of any proposed change to the fundamental attributes of a MF scheme, trustees are now mandated to obtain comments from SEBI, prior to effectuating such change. With an intent to ensure better compliance, SEBI has also expanded the scope of ‘key personnel’ of an AMC to include chief investment officer, chief risk officer, chief information security officer, chief operation officer, compliance officer, sales head, investor relation officer(s), etc. in addition to the erstwhile list of key personnel, which included the chief executive officer, fund manager(s), dealer(s) and head of other departments of the AMC. Hence, inter alia these new key personnel who are also now prohibited from carrying on self-dealing or front running activities, in addition to meeting the prescribed eligibility criteria. The revised reporting requirements extends SEBI’s regulatory prowess to monitor and bring more transparency in relation to the indirect change in control of the AMCs’ process. Relaxations and scrutiny go hand-in-hand In order to facilitate innovation in the MF space, SEBI has introduced certain relaxations like permitting employees of AMCs to participate in private placement of equity by any company, has allowed trustees to delegate its function(s) to declare/ fix a record date and decide the quantum of dividend, etc. to AMC officials. Further, trustees are now mandated to report to SEBI the MF securities dealt by them, only if a transaction exceeds INR 5 lakhs (vis-a-vis the previous threshold of INR 1 lakh). The regulator has also classified investment in non-convertible preference shares (“NCPSs”) as a ‘debt instrument’ and accordingly, limitation of a MF scheme to invest not more than 10% of its net asset value in debt instruments will also include NCPSs. The trustees now being required to obtain SEBI comments before effecting a ‘change in in the fundamental attributes of a MF scheme’ seems burden-some, as the regulator’s role, and oversight, already guarantees for the requisite checks and balances to govern the MF scheme, including for MF scheme transfers, through separate regulations and circulars in this behalf. Above is likely to add another layer to M&A deal-making, with already many layers involved, impacting deal costs and timelines, especially if a ‘new sponsor’ application may be involved, from a process, governance and unit holders’ standpoint. Albeit above ties into SEBI’s increasing focus on MF trustee’s accountability, which has hitherto been an overlooked area, given the nature and composition of MF trustee boards. Though, done with noble regulatory intent, one would have to see whether the above changes, including expansion of key personnel, further ‘spook’ trustee directors, especially independents - already an onerous position, with few upsides, especially after Calcutta High Court’s Order in the ITC / JPMorgan MF Trustees case, and SEBI’s approach qua Franklin Templeton trustees in 2020, expand the scope of potential SEBI show-cause ‘noticees’ from the current list of 7 (!), and shoot MF M&A in the knees, which was given a new lease of life recently via SEBI dropping the ‘3/ 5’ profitability criterion in Regulation 7, MF Regulations.

The Securities Exchange Board of India (“SEBI”) carried out a regulatory revamp exercise of SEBI (Mutual Funds) Regulations, 1996 (“MF Regulations”) and various circulars issued under it by way of a circular on mutual fund(s) (“MF”) issued on March 4, 2021 (“MF Circular”), effective from March 5, 2021, thereby streamlining a robust regime governing the reporting, compliance and disclosure requirements applicable to asset management company(ies) (“AMC”) and the trustee(s) of such AMCs. Continue Reading FIG Papers (No.4 : Series – 2): Indian Mutual Funds – New M&A Rules!

WHAT IS FRONT RUNNING – A Q&A PIECE IN LIGHT OF THE SEBI ORDER AGAINST DEALERS OF RELIANCE SECURITIES LTD

Introduction

In an interim ex-parte order last month against the dealers of Reliance Securities Limited (“RSL”) and other related entities (“RSL Order”)[1], SEBI prima facie held over two dozen entities to have engaged in front running the trades of Tata Absolute Return Fund, a scheme of Tata AIF (“Big Client”).

During its preliminary examination, SEBI meticulously pieced together several bits of available circumstantial evidence and alleged an archetypal scheme of front running purportedly employed by three senior dealers (“Dealers”) at RSL, in nexus with various related entities. The RSL Order alleges that once the Dealers at RSL were privy to the non-public information of the impending orders of Big Client, they along with their connected broker or dealer entity would, through multiple trading accounts directly or indirectly controlled by them, place trades either in the Buy-Buy-Sell pattern or Sell-Sell-Buy pattern, around the time of the orders of the Big Client to generate substantial proceeds. Continue Reading What is Front Running? – A Q&A Piece in Light of the SEBI Order Against Dealers of Reliance Securities Ltd.

SEBI Updates Framework for Overseas Investments by Alternative Investment Funds and Venture Capital Funds

The Securities and Exchange Board of India (“SEBI”) has updated the regulatory framework applicable to AIFs/ VCFs, seeking to make portfolio investments in offshore companies vide SEBI Circular dated August 17, 2022, titled ‘Guidelines for overseas investment by Alternative Investment Funds (AIFs)/ Venture Capital Funds (VCFs)’ (“SEBI Circular”). AIFs/ VCFs are currently permitted to make portfolio investments in equity and equity linked instruments of offshore venture capital undertakings[1], subject to taking case by case approval of SEBI for each such investment. Such approval is granted by SEBI to AIFs/ VCFs on a ‘first come first serve basis’, within an overall limit of USD 1,500 million.

Continue Reading SEBI Updates Framework for Overseas Investments by Alternative Investment Funds and Venture Capital Funds

Subhkam Returns SAT Ruling in NDTV Case

The challenge in interpreting ‘control’ under the SEBI takeover regime is hardly a new one. The current definition of ‘control’ under the Takeover Regulations, 2011, similar to the one under the Takeover Code, 1997, consists of two parts. Firstly, the right to appoint a majority of the directors on the board of a company, which is fairly straightforward to determine; and secondly, the right to control the management and policy decisions of a company, which is where things tend to become slightly murky specially in the context of a minority shareholder exercising veto or affirmative vote rights.

Continue Reading Subhkam Returns: SAT Ruling in NDTV Case

Fund Management Regulations 2022

I. Introduction

A robust asset management industry along with a well-developed regulatory ecosystem is pivotal to the growth of capital markets, which are in turn critical to a developing economy such as India. The Government of India is taking considerable efforts for ‘onshoring the offshore’ financial services activities to enable India to compete with some of the more established jurisdictions in the world such as Singapore, Mauritius and Hong Kong.

Continue Reading IFSCA (Fund Management) Regulations, 2022: Inching closer to make India a Global Hub for Asset Management

Analysis of recently attempted Voluntary Delistings

The number of voluntarily delistings seen in the last 1 (one) year has surpassed the number of delistings attempted earlier in a single year. Promoters are choosing to voluntarily delist their companies from the stock exchanges for various reasons including stock market price not being reflective of true value of the company’s stock, having full control over operations (without being required to go for any public vote for critical transactions), restructuring of their group entities, greater flexibility and reducing costs related to numerous regulatory compliances.

Even the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) introduced various amendments (mostly for tightening of procedure) under the new SEBI (Delisting of Equity Shares) Regulations, 2021 (2021 Delisting Regulations). The 2021 Delisting Regulations replaced the old SEBI (Delisting of Equity Shares) Regulations, 2009 (2009 Delisting Regulations). However, the key elements of a delisting process i.e. requirement of super majority of minority shareholder being in favour of the delisting proposal and the bidding process through the reserve book build (RBB) mechanism remain the same even under the new 2021 Delisting Regulations. Continue Reading Analysis of recently attempted Voluntary Delistings

RPT Regulations

Background

SEBI’s amendments to the regulatory architecture for related party transactions (“RPTs”) under the SEBI (Listing Obligations and Disclosure Requirements) Regulations, 2015 (“LODR”) came into force from April 1, 2022[1] (“RPT Regulations”), bringing about a paradigm shift in the RPT approval and disclosure requirements applicable to listed companies in India.[2]

Continue Reading RPT Regulations – Some Suggestions for SEBI’s consideration

SEBI Clarifies Applicability of Portfolio Managers Regulations to an Indian Manager of an Offshore Fund

In an interpretative letter sought under the SEBI (Informal Guidance) Scheme, 2003 (“Informal Guidance”), the markets regulator has clarified that the investment manager of an alternative investment fund (“AIF”) can provide investment management services to an offshore fund only as a SEBI-licensed  portfolio manager under the SEBI (Portfolio Managers) Regulations, 2012 (“PM Regulations”). SEBI also reiterated that the investment managers of AIFs are considered to be regulated by SEBI. In this post, we will explore the queries, SEBI’s responses, and implications for the industry.

Continue Reading SEBI Clarifies Applicability of Portfolio Managers Regulations to an Indian Manager of an Offshore Fund

ESOP Has SEBI Put an End to ‘Sell All’ Method of Cashless Exercise

Employee stock options are frequently used as an employee incentivisation and retention tool, given the benefit accrued over time. An ESOP-wrapped compensation is attractive because the gains from the shares acquired on exercise of employee stock options are much higher than the exercise price paid for the options. While the maximum or minimum price payable on exercise of the options is not prescribed by the law – which only lays down the requirement for the price to be accounting-standard compliant –  the price typically ranges from the face value of the share to the fair market value of the share.

Continue Reading ESOP: Has SEBI Put an End to ‘Sell All’ Method of Cashless Exercise?