Leasing has great potential in India. However, leasing in India faces serious handicaps which may mar its growth in future. The following are some of the problems.
1. Unhealthy Competition:
The market for leasing has not grown with the same pace as the number of lessors. As a result, there is over supply of lessors leading to competitor. With the leasing business becoming more competitive, the margin of profit for lessors has dropped from four to five percent to the present 2.5 to 3 percent. Bank subsidiaries and financial institutions have the competitive edge over the private sector concerns because of cheap source of finance.
2. Lack of Qualified Personnel:
Leasing requires qualified and experienced people at the helm of its affairs. Leasing is a specialized business and persons constituting its top management should have expertise in accounting, finance, legal and decision areas. In India, the concept of leasing business is of recent one and hence it is difficult to get right man to deal with leasing business. On account of this, operations of leasing business are bound to suffer.
3. Tax Considerations:
Most people believe that lessees prefer leasing because of the tax benefits it offers. In reality, it only transfers; the benefit i.e. the lessee’s tax shelter is lessor’s burden. The lease becomes economically viable only when the transfer’s effective tax rate is low. In addition, taxes like sales tax, wealth tax, additional tax, surcharge etc. add to the cost of leasing. Thus leasing becomes more expensive form of financing than conventional mode of finance such as hire purchase.
4. Stamp Duty:
The states treat a leasing transaction as a sale for the purpose of making them eligible to sales tax. On the contrary, for stamp duty, the transaction is treated as a pure lease transaction. Accordingly a heavy stamp duty is levied on lease documents. This adds to the burden of leasing industry.
5. Delayed Payment and Bad Debts:
The problem of delayed payment of rents and bad debts add to the costs of lease. The lessor does not take into consideration this aspect while fixing the rentals at the time of lease agreement. These problems would disturb prospects of leasing business.
The current problems of Indian leasing could be listed as follows, again without any order of listing:
- Asset-liability mismatch: Most non-banking finance companies in India had relied extensively on public deposits -this was not a new development, as the RBI itself was constantly encouraging and supporting the deposit-raising activities of NBFCs. If the resulting asset-liability mismatch, to everybody’s agreement, is the surest culprit of all NBFC woes today, it must have been a sudden realization, because over all these years, each Governor of the RBI has passed laudatory remarks on the deposit-mobilization by NBFCs knowing fully well that most of these deposits were 1-year deposits while the deployment of funds was mostly for longer tenures. It is only the contagion created by the CRB-effect that most NBFCs have realized that they were sitting on gun-powder all these years. The sudden brakes put by the RBI have only worsened the mismatch.
- Generally-bad economic environment: Over past couple of years, the economy itself has done pretty badly. The demand for capital equipment has been at one of the lowest ebbs. Automobile sales have come down; corporate have found themselves in a general cash crunch resulting into sticky loans.
- Poor and premature credit decisions in the past: Most NBFCs have learnt a very hard way to distinguish between a good credit prospect and a bad credit prospect. When a credit decision goes wrong, it is trite that in retrospect, it invariably seems to be the silliest mistake that ever could have been made, but what Indian leasing companies have suffered are certainly problems of infancy. Credit decisions were based on a pure financial view, with asset quality taking a back-seat.
- Tax-based credits: In most of the cases of frauds or hopelessly-wrong credit decisions, there has been a tax motive responsible for the transaction. India has something which many other countries do not- a 100% first year depreciation on several assets. Apparently, the list of such assets is limited and the underlying fiscal rationale quite holy and sound – certain energy saving devices, pollution control devices etc qualify for such allowance. But that being the law, it is left to the ingenuity of our extremely competent tax consultants to widen the range with innovative ideas of exploiting these entries in the depreciation schedule. Thus, there have been cases where domestic electric meters have been claimed as energy saving devices, and the captive water softenizer in a hotel has been claimed as water pollution control device! As leasing companies were trying to exploit these entries, a series of fraudsters was successful in exploiting, to the hilt, the propensity of leasing companies to surpass all caution and all lending prudence to do one such transaction to manage its taxes, and thus, false papers for non-existing wind mills and never-existing bio-gas plants were fabricated to lure leasing companies into losing the whole of their money, to save the part that would have gone as government taxes!
- Extraneous problems – frauds, closures and regulation: As they say, it does not rain, it pours. Several problems joined together for leasing companies – the public antipathy created by the CRB episode and subsequent failures of some good and several bad NBFCs, regulation by the RBI requiring massive amount of provisions to be created for assets that were non-performing, etc. It certainly was not a good year to face all these problems together.