Friday, 10 March 2017

Indian Banks: Sadly Things are Looking More “Subdued”

It's Not Cricket!

Things are looking mighty “subdued” as careful observers might say.

Some quotes from Bloomberg followed by (AA) comments.

Stressed assets -- made up of bad loans, restructured debt and advances to companies that can’t meet servicing requirements -- have risen to about 16.6 percent of total loans in India, the highest level among major economies, data compiled by the nation’s Finance Ministry show.

AA is puzzled.  I would think that “advances to companies that can’t meet servicing requirements” would qualify as “bad” loans.  And that restructured debt that was performing, i.e., meeting servicing requirements would not be bad debt.  On the other hand if restructurings were “cosmetic” in nature, then they are indeed bad loans.  If loans aren’t performing, they’re “bad” loans.  If loans are restructured at lower rates perhaps even below market rates but are performing, shouldn’t banks bear this cost? 


Ratings companies including Fitch Ratings Ltd have come out in favor of setting up a state-backed “bad bank” to tackle India’s ballooning stressed assets problem, a move resisted by Raghuram Rajan, the former governor of the Reserve Bank of India.

Seems to AA if banks’ “bad” loans are ballooning, the country probably already has more than one “bad” bank, particularly when one factors in the comments in the article about “hiding” bad loans, failing to take tough decisions.   


The RBI completed its audit of the nation’s 50 lenders last year, forcing them to lay bare previously hidden non-performing loans.

That sounds like rather “bad” behavior to AA.

Banks had been reluctant to offer discounts to offload bad loans even where they are clearly worth much less than their book value because such sales “invite the attention of anti-corruption agencies making bank officials reluctant to sign off on them,” Fitch analysts including Guha wrote in a Feb. 23 note.
AA wonders if the anti-corruption agencies should look earlier in the loan cycle, e.g., at initial underwriting and subsequent “hiding” stages?  Also are bankers looking for the “bad” bank to make “bad” pricing decisions and buy the duff loans at prices higher than their fair value?  Thus, bailing out the banks’ previous bad behavior?  Perhaps this explains former Governor Rajan’s reluctance.

Bankers selling bad loans to a national bad bank won’t be questioned, as this institution will be empowered by the government to take tough decisions,” said Rajesh Mokashi, managing director at CARE Ratings Ltd. in an interview. A bad bank will also bring to an end to fear of “witch-hunting” of lenders, if any, by anti-graft agencies, he said.

Is this an admission by bankers that they are restricted from taking “tough” decisions?  Or that they are incapable or unwilling to take “tough” decisions?  If either, then a sale to a bad bank does nothing to change this “bad” behavior and is likely to lead to a repeat of bad loan creation by these same banks that can’t or won’t take “tough” decisions.

With more than $180 billion in stressed assets, the government and regulators have to evaluate all avenues including a bad bank to drive better recovery rates,” said Nikhil Shah, managing director at Alvarez and Marsal, a firm that specializes in turnarounds.
AA wonders how selling duff assets to an asset manager--or “bad” bank, if you prefer--improves recovery rates.  Does this mean that banks are unwilling to take hard decisions or aren’t allowed to?  If so, what guarantee is there that the “bad” bank will?   If the fundamental problem is a slow moving erratic legal process, will the fact that the plaintiff is now a “bad” bank really speed up the legal process?  Or is the idea to buy the duff loans from the banks above market, thus improving their “recovery” rates and stick the “bad” bank with the losses?

All in all not a very pretty picture.  Subdued indeed.
But every situation has both positive and negative possibilities.  As this post about comments from the head of a distinguished bank in a  neighboring country shows, attitude can play a key role

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