Friday, May 26, 2017

STORM SIGNALS IN THE BANKING SECTOR

The banking industry in India today presents a confused picture. On the one hand, super regulator Reserve Bank of India has granted bank licenses to 23 fresh applicants such as Aditya Birla Neo more, Reliance Industries, Tech Mahindra, Vodafone Mpesa, Paytm and Airtel. These corporates have to invest Rs. 100 crore each to gain entry into the banking sector.  And on the other, legacy banks, who constitute the majority seem to be on their last leg.

Ironically, the banking companies in the public sector, who constitute more than 70% of its turnover are in dire straits. Reason: unimaginable NPA burden. This ailment is has crippled almost all of the public sector banks. It is estimated that PSU banks have run up an NPA position of Rs. 6, 11, 607 crore as on March 31, 2016. According to a Credit, Suisse estimate, there could be a default on 16-17 per cent of total bank loans by March 31, 2018. Presently, the food and non-food credit stand set Rs. 75, 20, 30 crore. This would add up to about Rs.12 lakh crore of humungous NPAs.

It is in the above context that we have to examine the recent Banking Regulation (Amendment) Ordinance of May 4, 2017, which authorizes the RBI to take decisions on the settlement of NPAs and a consequent cleaning up of bank balance sheets-part of the twin balance sheet problem raised by the government’s Chief Economic Advisor, Dr. Arvind Subramanian.

It is ironical that in the bank boardd which sanctioned such gargantuan loans to corporates like those of Malya and other defaulters, there was a full-fledged representative of the RBI present on all such occasions. Neither the government nor the RBI is talking about what action would be taken against such board members who sanctioned these unviable loans. A colossal failure of good governance.

As a matter of fact, the issue is the parlous nature of India’s corporate debt, as they rely on banks for their main source of funds. 65.7 % of the Indian corporate debt is funded by banks. Large borrowers account for 56% of bank debt and 88% of their NPAs. Of this, 40% of debt lies with companies with an interest coverage ratio of less than one. Almost over half of the debt is owned by firms whose debt equity ratio is more than 150%.

This mess is because of the sanction of loans to corporates who lacked capital as well as expertise, besides of course politically directed instructions.  If the writing off of Rs. 36, 359 crore worth agricultural loans in Uttar Pradesh was bad economics, then the waiving of corporate NPAs would be worse. It looks like that the public sector banks are on a course to self – distraction over a time period with the cycle of continuous re-capitalization and self – perpetuating defaults. This is indeed a sad outcome brought about by greed of capitalists, collusion of the bureaucracy and criminal negligence in supervision  on the part of RBI and the Ministry of Finance. It would appear that we’ve perpetuated a self-serving system of socialization of losses and privatization of gains!

Will this cycle be broken and health restored to the banking system? As of now, the light at the end of the tunnel seems to be that of the oncoming train………..

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Prof. K. K. Krishnan
Chairperson - CCR &
Prof. Centre for Insurance & Risk Management
Birla Institute of Management Technology

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