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India's Bank of Baroda says open to lending to Adani Group

Traffic moves past the logo of the Adani Group installed at a roundabout on the ring road in Ahmedabad

By Siddhi Nayak and Nupur Anand

MUMBAI (Reuters) - India's Bank of Baroda is open to lending to the Adani Group going forward, provided the embattled conglomerate meets all of the bank's underwriting criteria, a top executive at the state-run lender said on Monday.

Investors have been worried about various banks' exposure to the Adani Group ever since U.S.-based short-seller Hindenburg Research alleged improper use of offshore tax havens and stock manipulation by the conglomerate.

The State Bank of India, IndusInd Bank, Punjab National Bank have all tried to allay concerns regarding their exposure to group, while the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has said that the Indian banking system remains resilient and stable.

On Monday, Bank of Baroda's managing director told Reuters that the lender's outstanding exposure to the group was less than one-fourth of the amount permitted by the central bank for conglomerates, which allows for no more than 25% of a bank's available eligible capital base to be exposed to any one group of connected companies.

A large percentage of this was towards companies having "very strong" cash flows, limiting any downside to asset quality, Sanjiv Chadha, MD of India's second largest state-run bank by assets, said .

"There is nothing that should really concern us," Chadha said, adding that having top-most underwriting standards was high on the lender's order of priority.

He also said the bank would assess any refinancing request when it came up, but hasn't taken any in-principle decision to stop lending to the Adani Group, and that the bank was currently comfortable with its exposure to it.

Overall, Bank of Baroda was targeting a loan growth of 18% for this financial year, and 15% for 2023-24, he said, much of this would continue to come from the retail sector as the bank remains "conservative" towards corporate lending.

In the October-December quarter, Bank of Baroda's retail advances grew 29.4% year-on-year, while corporate loans rose by 13.3%. Domestic deposits grew 14.5% in the same period.

Chadha also said for funding stressed telecom carrier Vodafone Idea, the bank will evaluate aspects like the company's competitive position and the government's support among other things, adding that there was "still a long way to go" for things to fall in place.

The Indian government has allowed Vodafone Idea to convert the $2 billion interest on dues owed to the sovereign into equity. Vodafone will issue 16.13 billion shares at 10 rupees a piece worth 161.33 billion rupees.

($1 = 82.5420 Indian rupees)

(Reporting by Siddhi Nayak and Nupur Anand in Mumbai; Editing by Nivedita Bhattacharjee)