Thursday, July 30, 2009

Tonic to builders and buyers Assetventures

Middle and lower-income subscribers to new home loans stand to save as much as Rs 1.5 lakh on interest payment under concessions announced by the Centre today while wrapping up discussions on the budget.

Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, replying to the debate on the Finance Bill that was later passed in the Lok Sabha, also offered some concessions aimed at easing the burden of the downturn-hit industry. (See chart)

The measure that will help middle-income earners most is the 1 per cent interest subsidy on home loans up to Rs 10 lakh to buy houses worth up to Rs 20 lakh. The subsidy will translate into a total saving of Rs 28,920 on interest payment during the tenure of a 5-year loan and Rs 1.51 lakh over a 20-year period.

As many as 70 per cent of home loan borrowers fall in the Rs 10-lakh bracket, industry sources said. The government’s offer to underwrite 1 per cent of interest is expected to cost it about Rs 1,000 crore, according to the finance ministry.

“It (the subsidy) is a welcome step as it will improve affordability. Any such step tends to improve activity in the real estate and construction sectors, which are among the largest employment generators,” said Renu Sud Karnad, joint managing director of HDFC.

The subsidy announcement came a day ahead of the RBI’s credit policy which analysts do not expect to offer interest rate cuts.

Mukherjee did not confine the incentives to real estate to the subsidy alone. He also offered a tax holiday to projects that more or less got off the ground at the start of the downturn if they finish construction by March 2012.

Builders of projects that got approval between April 1, 2007, and March 31, 2008, need not pay tax on profits if they are completed on or before March 31, 2012. Given the euphoria of 2007, builders had rushed to launch a slew of projects that ran into rough weather when the tide turned in the latter half of 2008. Realtors have been pleading for relief after housing prices fell by as much as 15 to 25 per cent in many cities.

“The incentive is expected to help more big developers who are stuck with high leverage and low sales but the impact could be felt by all,” Pradip Chopra, director of Calcutta-based developer PS Group, said.

Rajiv Talwar, the executive director of developer DLF, agreed: “These measures will help to a large extent to sell stocks of affordable housing and boost overall demand.”

However, all real estate players were not enthused. Arun Puri, chairman of property consultant firm Jones Lang La-Salle Meghraj, said: “Such tokenism may not really perk up the market… larger gestures like reduction in interest rates and incentives for developers are needed to rescue the market.”

Mukherjee also addressed an accounting concern of industry, clarifying that changes in service tax would be implemented only from September 1. Industry associations had requested the government for time to make changes in their tax software.

Industrial growth had shrunk in December and January, but Mukherjee asserted today that the measures already announced in the budget and earlier as part of two stimulus packages could push the growth in gross domestic product to 8 to 9 per cent by end-2010.

Mukherjee said he would stick to his promise of placing a draft direct tax code within 45 days of taking over as finance minister and it would be tabled in the winter session of Parliament. “We will make some major changes in the tax administration and related laws in the country,” he said.

The minister promised to push through a nationwide goods and services tax by April 1, 2010, “with cooperation from states….”

The measure is expected to reduce taxes on goods and services and make taxation uniform throughout the country.

Mukherjee had a message for those disappointed by the lack of reforms in the budget. “Reforms will be very much on our agenda. It is a continuing process... it will not be a mantra to be chanted occasionally,” he said.

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