Risk of a sharp deterioration in the asset quality of five of the largest PSU banks now seems to be abating with the economic recovery picking up pace, said Moody’s Investors Service in a recent note. However, despite this, the rating agency cautioned that such public sector lenders are likely to remain starved of sufficient capital to absorb unexpected shocks and support credit growth. Banks were expected to see a sharp rise in NPAs last year when the pandemic slowed the Indian economy down but despite the economic slump, the asset quality of banks has seen mild improvement.
Risks reducing for banks
State Bank of India, Bank of Baroda, Punjab National Bank, Canara Bank, and Union Bank of India, have all reported an improvement in their asset quality in the first nine months of the current fiscal year. “The gross NPL ratios of the five banks declined by an average of around 100 basis point as of the end of 2020 from a year earlier,” Moody’s said. The estimates even account for loans that have not yet been declared NPAs owing to the Supreme Court order. Lenders are also drawing comfort from the provisions made by them against the expected jump in NPAs.
During the pandemic, various measures were undertaken to support borrowers. This, according to Moody’s has largely helped limited impact of the pandemic on the banks’ asset quality. These measures included loan repayment moratorium, loan restructuring, monetary easing, liquidity infusion, Capital infusion into public sector banks, lowering LCR, among others. “As of the end of December 2020, the five banks restructured 0.7%-2.6% of gross loans, less than our expectations, as the impact of the pandemic on borrowers was not as severe as we had anticipated,” the report said.
Dearth of capital to result in uneven recovery
Despite the green shoots, capital shortage remains a risk. “The banks will continue to face shortages of capital to both absorb any unexpected stress and support credit growth, with high credit costs continuing to suppress profitability,” they added. This shortage in the capital could result in an uneven recovery for the Indian economy with various vulnerable industries facing a setback. The banks’ asset quality can also deteriorate more than anticipated, with exposures to the MSMEs, in particular, posing risks, Moody’s said.
The government planned to infuse Rs 20,000 crore into public sector banks this fiscal year and another Rs 20,000 in the next financial year. While the capital infusions will help the banks meet Basel capital requirements, it will not boost credit growth, according to the report. This would result in some banks turning to the market. Canara Bank and PNB have already raised some capital from equity markets.
On the other hand, in an earlier note, Moody’s said that private sector banks have raised sufficient capital buffers to tide through any hiccups going forward. Asset quality of private lenders remains supported by the same measures that have aided their public sector peers.