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India Likely to Put Pedal to Metal on Asset Sales

The government is on track to raise about  925 billion rupees this fiscal year.The government is on track to raise about  925 billion rupees this fiscal year.

India’s government may look to raise as much as a record one trillion rupees ($15.7 billion) from the sale of state assets in the next fiscal year to help meet tough fiscal deficit limits while giving it room to boost spending and woo voters before general elections that must be called by early 2019.

Investment bankers and economists expect the finance minister, Arun Jaitley, to set an ambitious target for the year beginning on April 1 following strong sales in the current fiscal year to the end of March, Reuters reported.

The government is on track to raise about 925 billion rupees this fiscal year after state-run ONGC, an upstream oil company, agreed to pay 369 billion rupees to buy just over 51% of refiner HPCL.

The deal is set to close this month and would take the governments asset-sales tally beyond the budget goal of 725 billion rupees, marking the first time in eight years that India had exceeded its targets.

The government accelerated asset sales in this current fiscal year after a chaotic rollout of a new national goods and services tax undermined tax collection targets.

As part of a goal to gradually bring down the fiscal deficit, India’s government has set a target for the current fiscal year of limiting the deficit to 3.2% of GDP and to 3% for the upcoming year. Analysts say the government is likely to miss this year’s target and may also revise next year’s goal.

Buoyed by this year’s bumper sales and with India’s stock markets at record highs, market participants expect Jaitley to unveil an asset-sale target of between 600 billion rupees and 1.2 trillion rupees when he unveils the fiscal 2018/19 budget on Feb. 1.

“Between this year and next year, I see them doing two trillion rupees worth of divestments,” said a senior banker who has worked closely with India’s Department of Investment and Public Asset Management on stake sales.

“We still have two months left in this fiscal year. If the big ones still expected this year do not happen by March, those would add to the proceeds next year—so I’d look for one trillion plus next year,” said the banker, declining to be named as he is not authorized to speak to the media about the government’s plans.

Another government official, who also asked not to be identified, said the government may set a divestment target of at least 600 to 700 billion rupees in 2018/19.

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