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Prem Watsa open to investing in PSU banks

Canadian billionaire Prem Watsa is open to the possibility of investing in India’s public sector banks provided he is given control and appropriate policies are formulated to clean them up and bring in sound management. Watsa, who was on a nearly week-long trip to India last week, also said that he plans to substantially increase investments in financial services and infrastructure in the country and will look to expand the business of Catholic Syrian Bank once the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) okays Fairfax’s purchase of a majority stake.Watsa told ET in an interview that opportunities in India are unlimited and that capital for banks and investments would not be a problem. Infrastructure such as roads, ports and financial services are huge areas of growth and Fairfax group is examining opportunities for investment in companies backed by strong management in these sectors, he said. Investment in public sector banks is an option but only if control and governance issues are sorted out.“In my opinion, firstly, the government should get NPAs (nonperforming assets) out of the books, finance them and widen their shareholding,” he said. “These banks should be run in an efficient manner. As far as investing in public sector banks, we keep that option open. If our CEO at Catholic Syrian Bank comes up with some ideas, we will definitely look into it. For us governance is very important.” 64847341 64849634 Watsa added that governance and management more than shareholding were key issues holding up efficient management of public sector banks.“Shareholding is not important, but the board should be independent,” he said. “For every decision, you should not have to run and check with the government. The board should be independent and take decisions on their own.”But he is clear that Fairfax will not make any moves without securing control. “I would rather prefer a bank with good corporate governance and good policies. Any underhand businesses would not be tolerated. We are fine with the Catholic Syrian Bank investment, which we would expand organically.”Asked if had discussed his interest in PSU banks investment with the government, Watsa said that it was aware of his interest. “They have to formulate appropriate policies. If they do that, the capital will come to all the public sector banks,” he said.

Source: ET

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