The country’s banks have significant asset-quality problems that are putting pressure on profitability and capital, as well as constraining their ability to lend, the ratings agency said.
The concept of a ‘bad bank‘ that purchases stressed assets and takes them to resolution was floated in the latest Economic Survey
“The creation of a ‘bad bank’ could accelerate the resolution of stressed assets in India’s banking sector, but it may face significant logistical difficult and would simultaneously require a credible bank recapitalization programme to address the capital shortfalls at state-owned banks,”Fitch Ratings said in a statement.
Fitch expects the stressed-asset ratio to rise over the coming year from the 12.3 per cent recorded at end-September 2016.
The ratio is significantly higher among state-owned banks.
“A larger-scale bad bank with government backing might have more success. However, it is unlikely to function effectively without a well-designed mechanism for pricing bad loans, particularly if the intention is for the bad bank to be run along commercial lines and involve private investors,” it said.
Fitch estimates that the banking sector will require around USD 90 billion in new total capital by 2018-19 fiscal to meet Basel-III standards and ongoing business needs.
“This estimate is unlikely to be significantly reduced by the adoption of a bad-bank approach, and could even rise if banks are forced to crystallise more losses from stressed assets than we currently expect,” it said.
The US-based agency expects that the government will eventually be required to provide more than the USD 10.4 billion that it has earmarked for capital injections by 2018-19, be it directly to state-owned banks or indirectly through a bad bank.
Asset-quality indicators may be close to their weakest levels, but the pace of recovery is likely to be held back by slow resolution of bad loans, it said.
Fitch said the most likely form of a bad bank would be that of a centralised asset-restructuring company (ARC) and as envisaged could take charge of the largest, most complex cases, make politically tough decisions to reduce debt, and allow banks to refocus on their normal lending activities.
Fitch said similar mechanisms have previously been used to help clean up banking systems in the US, Sweden, and countries affected by the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s.
Senior European policymakers have recently discussed the prospect of a bad bank to deal with non-performing loans in the EU.
“A bad bank might provide a way around some of the problems that have led Indian banks to favour refinancing over resolving stressed loans,” it said.
Large corporates often have debt spread across a number of banks, making resolution difficult to coordinate.
The process would be simplified if the debt of a single entity were transferred to one bad bank.
“This could be particularly important in India’s current situation, with just 50 corporates accounting for around 30 per cent of banks’ stressed assets,” Fitch said.
It said several small private ARCs already operate in India but they have bought up only a very small proportion of bad loans in the last two years, as banks have been reluctant to offer haircuts on bad loans even where they are clearly worth much less than their book value.