Commercial bills can be traded by offering the bills for rediscounting. Banks provide credit to their customers by discounting commercial bills. This credit is repayable on maturity of the bill. In case of need for funds, and can rediscount the bills in the money market and get ready money. Commercial bills ensure improved quality of lending, liquidity and efficiency in money management. It is fully secured for investment since it is transferable by endorsement and delivery and it has high degree of liquidity.
The bills market is highly developed in industrial countries but it is very limited in India. Commercial bills rediscounted by commercial banks with financial institutions amount to less than Rs 1,000 crore. In India, the bill market did not develop due to (1) the cash credit system of credit delivery where the onus of cash management rest with banks and (2) an absence of an active secondary market.
Measures to Develop the Bills Market:
One of the objectives of the Reserve Bank in setting up the Discount and finance House of India was to develop commercial bills market. The bank sanctioned a refinance limit for the DFHI against collateral of treasury bills and against the holdings of eligible commercial bills.
With a view to developing the bills market, the interest rate ceiling of 12.5 per cent on rediscounting of commercial bills was withdrawn from May 1, 1989.
To develop the bills market, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) allowed, in 1995-96, 14 mutual funds to participate as lenders in the bills rediscounting market. During 1996-97, seven more mutual funds were permitted to participate in this market as lenders while another four primary dealers were allowed to participate as both lenders and borrowers.
In order to encourage the ‘bills’ culture, the Reserve Bank advised banks in October 1997 to ensure that at least 25 percent of inland credit purchases of borrowers be through bills.
Size of the Commercial Bills market:
The size of the commercial market is reflected in the outstanding amount of commercial bills discounted by banks with various financial institutions.
The share of bill finance in the total bank credit increased from 1993-94 to 1995-96 but declined subsequently. This reflects the underdevelopment state of the bills market. The reasons for the underdevelopment are as follows:
The Reserve Bank made an attempt to promote the development of the bill market by rediscounting facilities with it self till 1974. Then, in the beginning of the 1980s, the availability of funds from the Reserve Bank under the bill rediscounting scheme was put on a discretionary basis. It was altogether stopped in 1981. The popularity of the bill of exchange as a credit instrument depends upon the availability of acceptance sources of the central bank as it is the ultimate source of cash in times of a shortage of funds. However, it is not so in India. The Reserve Bank set up the DFHI to deal in this instrument and extends refinance facility to it. Even then, the business in commercial bills has declined drastically as DFHI concentrates more on other money market instruments such as call money and treasury bills.
It is mostly foreign trade that is financed through the bills market. The size of this market is small because the share of foreign trade in national income is small. Moreover, export and import bills are still drawn in foreign currency which has restricted their scope of negotiation.
A large part of the bills discounted by banks are not genuine. They are bills created by converting the cash-credit/overdraft accounts of their customers.
The system of cash-credit and overdraft from banks is cheaper and more convenient than bill financing as the procedures for discounting and rediscounting are complex and time consuming.
This market was highly misused in the early 1990s by banks and finance companies which refinanced it at times when it could to be refinanced. This led to channeling of money into undesirable uses.