Tag: economist

Does India have a bad-debt problem?

Reserve Bank of India Logo

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The Reserve Bank of India (RBI), which regulates banks and sets interest rates, has a record of running a tight ship.
In 2008, for instance, banks were allowed to restructure weak loans without recognising them as bad debts; these now account for 3-4% of all loans.
The stock of all provisions held against all non-performing loans is lower than in other countries, particularly at the state-owned banks that dominate the industry.
Banks dominate lending, so the risk of problems hidden in the shadows of the financial system is small.
Infrastructure loans have risen quickly to account for about 15% of overall loans-not enough to bring the system to its knees, but enough to harm a handful of banks if any losses are unevenly distributed.
But as elsewhere, its banks are a reflection of its economy, warts and all.

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Running out of options

Sealing of the Bank of England Charter (1694)

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When markets wobbled, central banks slashed interest rates.
As a result governments are reluctant to cut the deficit too quickly for fear of sending their economies back into recession.
Turning to monetary policy, interest rates are 1.5% or below in most of the developed world and are negative in real terms (the Bank of England kept rates at 2% or more for the first 300 years of its existence).
But high debt ratios (particularly in the household sector) make central banks very uneasy about raising interest rates for fear of ushering in another round of the credit crunch.
Governments and central banks have thrown a lot of stimulus at the economy and the result has been a fairly sluggish recovery.


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Indian banks: The pendulum swings again

In May SBI’s new chairman announced dire results, with lower lending margins, provisions for pensions and extra charges taken against its loans. The hit, including forfeited profits, was some $2.5 billion, equivalent to over a tenth of the bank’s equity. Since its capital ratios are too low to support fast growth, SBI needs to raise more equity. That means persuading the government, which does not want its 59% stake diluted, to stump up: not an easy task.

With rates rising and the economy slowing, some fear more bad debts could emerge at the state banks that lent freely during the downturn. Meanwhile the private banks seem perkier, with their share of loans beginning to rise. ICICI’s chief executive, Chanda Kochhar, says that after two years of building more branches to suck in sticky deposits, the bank is “in a happy situation” and ready to start increasing credit again. Aditya Puri, the boss of HDFC Bank, which remains the darling of investors thanks to its metronomic performance, plans to keep expanding quickly, too. Other financial firms with banking licences, such as Kotak Mahindra, have been shifting towards the lending business and away from capital markets where profitability has fallen, partly thanks to a rush of foreign investment banks into India.

Indian banks: The pendulum swings again | The Economist.