* Stock falls as much as 22.4 percent
* HDIL exec says “very comfortable” with debt repayments (Updates with details, background)
By Aditi Shah and Swati Pandey
MUMBAI, Jan 24 (Reuters) - An executive at India’s Housing Development & Infrastructure Ltd, whose shares have plummeted on market speculation over its debt repayments, denied on Thursday it was in financial trouble.
The company’s share price tumbled anew by 22.7 percent after already falling 20.4 percent in the previous two sessions.
The losses, triggered when the company said its vice chairman and co-founder cut his stake by more than half, has wiped 19.5 billion Indian rupees ($363.23 million) from HDIL’s market value.
“There have been lots of rumours in the market about bankruptcy and defaults, which we totally deny,” said Hari Prakash Pandey, vice-president of finance at HDIL, on a conference call with investors.
“We are very comfortable with the debt repayment schedule and we are as per schedule,” he added.
The fall in HDIL’s share price highlights concerns about the high debts at property developers, which are facing trouble paying back interest at a time of slowing sales.
HDIL was also hit by worries about the widespread practice of so-called promoter pledging in India, in which controlling stakeholders of companies pledge their shares as collateral in exchange for loans or working capital.
Vice Chairman Sarang Wadhawan sold 5 million shares worth 570 million rupees, reducing his stake to 0.99 percent from 2.19 percent, HDIC said on Tuesday.
The company is 37 percent owned by its founders including Wadhawan, with 98 percent of their shares pledged with banking and financial institutions.
Pandey said Wadhawan sold his stake because the company had to meet immediate debt and principal repayments, as well as a final tranche of the payment for a land transaction in Mumbai.
“We took certain decisions which have not gone down very well with our shareholders, and the promoters have assured that there will not be any further sale of shares,” Pandey said.
A slowdown in home sales in Asia’s third largest economy, caused by sticky inflation and high interest rates, is putting pressure on property developers who loaded up on debt during India’s real estate boom of 2006/07.
Pandey said HDIL faced an average cost of debt of 13.25 percent and is trying to manage its debt through cash flow and extending the maturity of loans. Its debt is down 2 billion rupees to 34.7 billion rupees as of the end of December.
Other property developers also fell on worries about their debts, with Unitech Ltd losing 7 percent. Infrastructure developer IVRCL Ltd slumped 19.8 percent.
The tumbling of HDIL shares also reflects concerns about promoter pledging. Large stake sales by controlling stakeholders in companies thought to be facing financial difficulties often lead to a bout of selling.
Dealers fear that this kind of sellings can herald cash problems for either the controlling stakeholder or the company.
The total value of pledged stocks reached $27 billion as of the quarter ended in September, according to Morgan Stanley, marking a 16 percent increase from the previous quarter. ($1 = 53.6850 Indian rupees) (Additional reporting by Abhishek Vishnoi; Editing by Rafael Nam and David Cowell)