Corporates Will Continue to Default on Bank Loans

rupee

We have extensively written about how corporate loan defaults have screwed up the state of banks in general in India, with public sector banks in particular.

This can be made out from the fact that the aggregate domestic corporate lending non-performing assets (or bad loans) of scheduled commercial banks, as of December 31, 2017, stood at Rs 6,63,877 crore. Bad loans are loans on which repayment has not been made for 90 days or more.

The total domestic bad loans of scheduled commercial banks on December 31, 2017, stood at Rs 8,31,141 crore. This means that the corporate bad loans account for 80% of the overall bad loans of banks.

Having said that, it doesn’t make much sense to paint all the corporates with the same brush. Borrowing is an essential part of corporate growth and that cannot suddenly go out of the equation.

Care Ratings has carried out a very interesting study on corporate borrowing and how the different kinds of borrowers (as per the total amount of borrowing) are placed in their ability to repay bank loans, at this point of time.

Care Ratings took a sample of 2,314 companies, which excludes banks and other finance companies. The total borrowing of these companies stands at Rs 20.02 lakh crore as of March 31, 2017.

The interest coverage ratio of these companies stood at 3.92. Interest coverage ratio is basically obtained by dividing operating profit of a company (or companies) by interest payments that need to be made on outstanding loans, during a particular period. This ratio fell to an almost similar 3.9 for the period April to December 2017.

This tells us that on the whole, the corporates are making enough money to keep servicing the interest that is due on their debt. But averages as usual hide the real story, which starts to change, as soon as we start to dig a little more.

Let’s look at this in detail one by one:

  1. For the period April to December 2017, 578 companies in the sample with an outstanding debt of Rs 4.78 lakh crore, which amounted to 24% of the total debt, had an interest coverage ratio (ICR) of less than 1. This basically means that companies which have taken on one fourth of the corporate debt (as per the sample used) are not earning enough money to keep servicing the interest payments on their debt.

    When the interest coverage ratio is less than one, the operating profit made by the company is less than the interest payment that is due. In such a situation, neither the company, nor the bank is left with many options. If the company’s situation does not improve, it is more than likely to default on the bank loan.

    How has the situation changed when we compare the financial year 2016-2017 with the period April to December 2017? In 2016-2017, 524 companies with total debt amounting to Rs 5.42 lakh crore, had an interest coverage ratio of less than 1.

    What this means is that in April to December 2017, more companies ended up with an interest coverage ratio of less than one. Nevertheless, a smaller amount of money was at stake.

  2. Let’s take a look at Table 1:

    Table 1: Distribution of companies and ICR according to debt sizeTable 1 makes for a very interesting reading. Let’s start with the large companies with a debt of Rs 5,000 crore or more. There are 68 such companies. Their interest coverage ratio has come down from 3.22 to 3.08. But this fall is not huge.

    Further, there are 23 companies with a total debt of Rs 2.82 lakh crore, with an interest coverage ratio of less than one. This basically means that large companies form a bulk of the debt of Rs 4.78 lakh crore of companies, with an interest coverage ratio of less than one.

    This basically means that the banks haven’t seen the last of corporate defaults and more defaults will happen in the time to come.

  3. The companies with a debt of Rs 2,500-5,000 crore are in the worst possible space. The interest coverage has fallen from 2.26 for 2016-2017 and to 1.73 during the period April to December 2017, respectively. Clearly the positon of these companies on their ability to keep paying interest on their debt has come down.

    There are 56 companies in this bracket. Of these 22 companies have an interest coverage ratio of less than one. These companies have a total debt of around Rs 75,000 crore. These companies (along with large companies with an interest coverage ratio of less than one) primarily operate in the steel, engineering and textiles sector. Take a look at Table 2.

    Table 2:

  4. Interestingly, companies with lower levels of debt seem to be better placed on the interest coverage ratio front.
  5. The study further shows that the companies with higher levels of outstanding debt have seen sharper declines in their interest coverage ratio during April to December 2017, in comparison to 2016-2017. As Madan Sabnavis and Rucha Ranadive, the authors of this report put it: “A combination of declining interest coverage ratio and interest coverage ratio less than 1 is a good signal to identify debt service failure.”

To conclude, what these data points tell us for sure is that the banks haven’t seen the last of corporate defaults. There is more to come.

This column originally appeared on Equitymaster on April 17, 2018.

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89% of Bad Loans Written Off by Public Sector Banks are Not Recovered

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“You don’t get bored writing about bad loans of public sector banks?” asked a friend, a few days back.

We honestly told them, we don’t, simply because new details keep coming out, and we keep writing about them. And most of these new details show how messy the situation has become.

Yesterday, while digging through the questions raised by MPs in the Rajya Sabha, we came across another interesting data point, which again shows how messy the bad loans problem of public sector banks actually is and why it is not going to end anytime soon, irrespective of what analysts and politicians have to say about it.

Bad loans are essentially loans which have not been repaid for a period of 90 days or more.

After a point banks need to write-off bad loans. These are loans which banks are having a difficult time to recover.

When banks write-off bad loans, the total bad loans of the banks come down. At the same time, these bad loans are written-off against the operating profits of banks.

In an answer to a question raised in the Rajya Sabha, the government gave out the details of the total amount of bad loans which have been written off by public sector banks, over the last few years.

Take a look at Table 1:
Table 1:

Year Loans written off (in Rs Crore)
2014-2015 49,018.00
2015-2016 57,585.00
2016-2017 81,683.00
2017-2018* 84,272.00
Total 2,72,558.00
* Up to December 31, 2017

 

Source: RAJYA SABHA

UNSTARRED QUESTION NO: 3600

TO BE ANSWERED ON THE 27th MARCH, 2018

Table 1 tells us that between April 1, 2014 and December 31, 2017, the public sector banks wrote off loans worth Rs 2,72,558 crore. Hence, the profits of the bank have been impacted to that extent and so have the dividends that these banks give to the government every year.

Nevertheless, this is a point that we have made in the past. In this column, we hope to make a new point. While the loans that are written off are those that are deemed to be difficult to recover, there is still a certain chance that these loans may be recovered by the bank (given that loans are made against a collateral). How do the numbers stack up on this front? Take a look at Table 2.

Table 2:

Year Loans recovered(in Rs Crore)
2014-2015 5,461.00
2015-2016 8,096.00
2016-2017 8,680.00
2017-2018* 7,106.00
Total 29,343.00
* Up to December 31, 2017
 

Source: RAJYA SABHA

UNSTARRED QUESTION NO: 3600

TO BE ANSWERED ON THE 27th MARCH, 2018

 

From Table 1 and Table 2 we can conclude that over the last four years, Rs 29,343 crore of the bad loans that have been written off (Rs 2,72,558 crore) have been recovered by public sector banks. This basically means that the rate of recovery is 10.8%. Or 89.2% of the bad loans which are written off are not recovered.

Hence, technically there might be a difference between a write off and a waive off, but in real life, there isn’t. A write off is as good as a waive off with the banks failing to recover a bulk of the bad loans. Also, in case of a waive off, the government compensates banks to that extent.

As we have mentioned in the past
, loans to industry amount to 73% of the overall bad loans of public sector banks, whereas loans to the services sector amounts to another 13%. This basically means that corporates are responsible for more than 80% of bad loans of banks. And this explains why public sector banks have a tough time trying to recovering the bad loans they have written off.

A bulk of these bad loans are because of corporates who have access to the best lawyers as well as politicians and banks find it difficult to recover these bad loans by selling the collateral against which these loans have been made.

While, public sector banks have written off loans worth Rs 2,72,558 crore over the last four years, the total bad loans outstanding of public sector banks stood at Rs Rs. 7,77,280 crore, as of December 31, 2017. So, public sector banks aren’t done writing off bad loans as yet. There is more to come.

Stay tuned!

The column was originally published on Equitymaster on April 3, 2018.

India’s Banking is Getting Privatised Without the Govt

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“Should public sector banks be privatised?” is a question that is being thoroughly debated these days. Arguments have been offered from both sides.

Those against the idea of public sector banks being privatised like to say that private sector banks also make bad lending decisions and end up with bad loans. Of course, that is true. In the business of banking, some loans are bound to go bad. A bad loan is essentially a loan on which  the repayment has not been made for 90 days or more.

Nevertheless, the more important point is what proportion of the loans have gone bad. As of March 31, 2017, the total bad loans of public sector banks stood at Rs 6,41,057 crore. In comparison, the total bad loans of private sector banks stood at Rs 73,842 crore.
Hence, the bad loans of private sector banks amounted to around 11.5% of bad loans of public sector banks. But just looking at bad loans in isolation isn’t really the correct way.
We also need to look at the total advances or loans of these banks.

As of March 31, 2017, the total advances of public sector banks stood at Rs 55,57,232 crore. The total advances of private sector banks stood at Rs 22,19,563 crore, or around 40% of advances of public sector banks.

If the private sector banks were doing as badly as public sector banks on the bad loans front, there bad loans should also have been around 40% of the total bad loans of public sector banks. But that as we saw is clearly not the case. The bad loans of private sector banks are at 11.5% of the bad loans of public sector banks.

This basically means that the private sector banks operate much more efficiently than public sector banks. Hence, the argument that public sector banks should not be privatised because private sector banks also accumulate bad loans, doesn’t really hold.

But that isn’t the major point that I wanted to make in this column. What people who suggest that public sector banks should not be privatised do not realise is that the banking sector in India is getting privatised on its own, even though the government continues to own 21 public sector banks. Take a look at Table 1.

Table 1:

Total advances As on March 31 Public Sector Banks Private Sector Banks Ratio (Total advances by private sector banks to total advances by public sector banks) (in %)
2012 38,77,307.31 9,66,402.95 24.92%
2013 44,72,844.65 11,43,248.58 25.56%
2014 51,01,053.95 13,42,934.61 26.33%
2015 54,76,249.54 15,84,311.86 28.93%
2016 55,93,576.78 19,39,339.43 34.67%
2017 55,57,231.63 22,19,563.01 39.94%

Source: Author calculations based on data from Indian Banks’ Association

 

Now what does Table 1 tell us? As on March 31, 2012, the total advances of private sector banks were around a fourth of the total advances of public sector banks. By March 31, 2017, this ratio had increased to 40%.

This basically means that as public sector banks go slow on lending because of their bad loans, the total loans given out by private sector banks are growing at a much faster pace. Hence, as far as the overall banking sector is concerned, it is getting privatised, irrespective of what the experts and the government think about privatising public sector banks.

In fact, the situation is not very different from other sectors which the government has opened up for private companies over the years. Take a look at what happened to the airlines sector. Air India and Indian Airlines (before they were merged) had 100% of the market (along with Vayudoot, another government owned entity). Now Air India (in which the erstwhile Indian Airlines has been merged) has 13.8% of the market share. This has benefitted the consumers tremendously.

Similar stories of privatisation, without  the government privatising public sector enterprises, have played out in the telecom and pharmaceutical sectors, respectively, and even in education, to some extent.

The telecom sector had two players BSNL and MTNL. Over the years, the market share of these two government owned companies, has come down dramatically, while the government continues to own them.

Over the years, various ministers have referred to public sector enterprises as family jewels. The trouble is that in sector after sector, these family jewels have lost their lustre and a tremendous amount of value has been destroyed.

Along similar lines, public sector banks have reached a stage where it will be difficult to find buyers for many of these banks, even if the government makes a decision to privatize them (which in the first place seems very difficult).

The 1997 Committee on Banking Sector Reforms (better known as the second Narasimham Committee) had recommended that the government reduce its holdings in PSBs to 33 per cent and, in the process, give increased autonomy to these banks. The Committee had also recommended no further recapitalisation of public sector banks by the government. But that is not how things have eventually turned out.

And more than two decades later, now we have reached a stage where most of the public sector banks are as dead as a dodo.

 

The column was originally published on Firstpost on April 2, 2018.
 

Let’s Move Beyond Nirav Modi, Bad Loans Are Bleeding India

Nirav_Modi
Nirav Modi, Nirav Modi, where have you been?” is a question that the bankers at the Punjab National Bank (PNB), must be asking themselves these days.

Media reports suggest that Nirav Modi is in New York, and has no plans of coming back to India. His operational fraud is expected to cost PNB Rs 12,646 crore. PNB is the second largest public sector bank in the country and as of December 31, 2017, had accumulated bad loans of Rs 57,519 crore. A bad loan is a loan which hasn’t been repaid for a period of 90 days or more.

The one good thing that has happened since Nirav Modi’s fraud came to light is the relentless focus of the mainstream media on the operations of India’s government owned public sector banks.

The total bad loans of the public sector banks as of December 31, 2017, stood at Rs 7,77,280 crore. This forms 86.4% of the total bad loans of scheduled commercial banks (i.e. public sector banks + private sector banks + foreign banks).  This basically means that the total bad loans of scheduled commercial banks as of December 31, 2017, would be around Rs 9,00,000 crore.

Hence, Nirav Modi’s fraud of Rs 12,646 crore is just a drop in this ocean of bad loans. But his fraud has put a face to the sad state of affairs that prevails at public sector banks and has thus elicited interest from the mainstream media and the common public.

Before Nirav Modi came long, the bad loans of public sector banks was just an issue which with the business press was concerned about. Now even the TV channels in different languages are having discussions around the issue.

Nevertheless, the fundamental issue at the heart of the bad loans of India’s public sector banks continues to remain unaddressed. Who is responsible for this mess and what should be done about it?

The government released some interesting data earlier this month in an answer to a question raised in the Lok Sabha. As per data from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), the total bad loans from the “industry-large” category of loans, as of December 31, 2017, stood at Rs 5,27,876 crore. This was for scheduled commercial banks as a whole. The RBI defines a large borrower as a borrower with whom the bank has an exposure of Rs 5 crore or more.

Such borrowers are essentially responsible for a bulk of the bad loans of the banks in India. They are responsible for around 59% of the bad loans (Rs 5,27,876 crore expressed as a percentage of Rs 9,00,000 crore) of scheduled commercial banks. Bank loans to large industrial borrowers formed 59% of the bad loans, even though the total lending by banks to such borrowers formed only around 30 per cent of the total loans given by banks.

Public sector banks accounted for Rs 4,64,253 crore or 88% of bad loans in this.
In fact, the much criticised public sector banks do a pretty decent job of lending to the retail sector. Take a look at Table 1, which basically compares proportion of retail loans which turn bad with proportion of loans to corporates which turn bad, for a few public sector banks.
Table 1:

Name of the bank Retail bad loans
( in %)
Corporate bad loans
(in %)
State Bank of India 1.3 21.9
Bank of India 2.6 27.6
Syndicate Bank 4 16
Bank of Baroda 3.4 16
IDBI Bank 1.4 39.4
Central Bank of India 4.6 23.5
Bank of Maharashtra 4.4 15.3
Andhra Bank 1.8 29.1
Source: Investor/Analyst presentations of banks.    

Table 1 clearly shows that corporate bad loans are much higher than retail bad loans. The question is why? The answer perhaps lies in what economists call regulatory capture. As Noble Prize winning French economist Jean Tirole writes in his book Economics for the Common Good: “The state often fails. There are many reasons for these failures. Regulatory capture is one of them. We are well aware of the friendships and mutual support that create complicity between a public body and those who are supposed to be regulating it.”

How does one interpret this in the Indian case? While it would be totally unfair to suggest that the RBI, which regulates banks in India, is pally with corporates, but it would be totally fair to say that Indian politicians are very pally with Indian corporates. This is where the problem for public sector banks in India lies.

While giving out retail loans, the managers running public sector banks, can make right lending decisions, the same cannot be said when they carry out corporate lending, given the political pressure that prevails on many occasions.

In this scenario, it is worth asking whether all the 21 public sector banks in India should actually carry out corporate lending and put public deposits at risk, over and over again? This is a discussion that we should now be having as a nation and the mainstream media is where this discussion should be happening.

The column originally appeared on The Quint on March 22, 2018

Let’s Say Thank You to Nirav Modi

Nirav_Modi

As of September 30, 2017, the total bad loans of Indian public sector banks stood at Rs 6,89,806 crore. A bad loan is a loan which hasn’t been repaid for a period of 90 days or more.

Nirav Modi’s fraud, as of today, will add another $2 billion (around Rs 13,000 crore assuming $1=Rs 65) to the overall bad loans of the public sector banks, assuming that the banks are unable to recover any amount. This doesn’t seem to be the case given that the government has moved quickly and attached many assets of Nirav Modi.
Long story short, Nirav Modi’s fraud isn’t going to add much to the overall bad loans of public sector banks. A percentage or two more, isn’t going to change the situation, which is grave, much. Given this, we have been wondering, why has Nirav Modi got Indians so worked up.

Over the last few days, everyone we have interacted with, from Kaali Peeli drivers, to other cab drivers, to guest house attendants, to journalism school students and faculty, to people who edit the different publications that we write for and even the guy who collects trash in the building where we live, have had a thing or two to say about Nirav Modi.

But Nirav Modi’s fraud of around Rs 13,000 crore is small change when compared to the bad loans of public sector banks of Rs 6,89,806 crore. Why haven’t we seen anyone talk about the overall bad loans of public sector banks, up until now? The defaults on corporate loans make up for around 69% of overall bad loans of public sector banks. Why hasn’t this disturbed people enough, up until now?

Or to put it simply, why have people now started talking about the fact that when they default an EMI on a retail loan, the bank comes after them with great speed and purpose, whereas businessmen like Nirav Modi are allowed to commit a huge fraud, and leave the country comfortably.

Why are businessmen defaulting on loans treated differently by banks than individuals defaulting on etail loans?

Why are there only sick companies and no sick businessmen?

What is it that explains this dichotomy? As Nobel Prize winning economist Jean Tirole writes in Economics for the Common Good: “Psychologists have identified our tendency to attach more importance to people whose faces we know than to other anonymous people.”

Take the case of the distressing picture of a three-year-old Syrian child, who was found dead on a Turkish beach in 2015. This forced Europe to pay attention to the refugees coming in from Syria.

As Tirole writes: “It had much more impact on Europeans’ awareness than the statistics about thousands of migrants who had already drowned in the Mediterranean.”

Or as Joseph Stalin, the Soviet dictator, once said: “The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of million men is a statistic.”

This phenomenon works in advertising as well. As Tirole writes: “An advertising campaign against drunk driving has a more powerful effect when it shows a passenger flying through a windshield than when it announces the annual number of victims (a statistic that provides, however, far more information about the consequences of drunk driving).”

As far as India goes, let’s take the case of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy which happened in December 1984. A bulk of English speaking and reading India woke up to the tragedy only once the India Today magazine put the picture of an unknown child being buried, in the aftermath of the tragedy, on its cover.

An issue really becomes an issue in the minds of people, once they can visualise it in terms of an individual. A good example of this in the Indian case is that of the anti-gutka campaign that was run a few years back, and which featured an individual named Mukesh Harane, who died of oral cancer in October 2009.

He was addicted to gutka. After his death he became the face of the anti-tobacco message which was delivered to the people of this country through an audio-visual clip (shown regularly in cinema halls) as well as a print campaign.  It showed Mukesh talking about the ill-effects of eating gutka, with a feeding pipe going into his nose.

It was a fairly disturbing video, but it really drove home, the ill-effects of chewing gutka.

Along similar lines, like Mukesh Harane, Nirav Modi has become the poster boy for corporate India looting the public sector banks, over the years. And given this, while the Rs 6,89,806 crore of bad loans did not make much of an impression in the minds of people (in fact very people would even be aware of the largeness of this number), Nirav Modi’s Rs 13,000 crore fraud, clearly has.

And nothing works better on the government than public pressure. The government has reacted quickly and seized the assets of Nirav Modi. It is also trying to push in long due reforms. Today’s edition of The Times of India reports that the government is planning a new regulator, called National Financial Reporting Authority(NFRA), to regulate the chartered accountants and auditors.

It will take away the review and disciplinary functions the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI). This is something which has been long due and only the Nirav Modi fraud has pushed the government towards considering this reform, seriously. The ICAI is a part of the deep state that runs India, and clearly needs to be reined in.

Further, banks have been directed to check for the possibility of fraud on all bad loans of Rs 50 crore or more. Many corporate defaults run into hundreds if not thousands of crore. The question is where did all this money that was raised to fund projects, go? Over the years, there has been a lot of talk about corporates overstating the cost of projects, borrowing a larger amount and then tunnelling money out of the project.

This is something that should have been investigated as soon as the defaults had started to happen. But, again, nothing was done on this front. Now thanks to Nirav Modi, this exercise has been initiated.

Above all this, the Nirav Modi fraud, raised enough stink, leading to the mass media writing, reporting and discussing about the mess that prevails in India’s public sector banks. A large section of the population came to know about the mess, only because of the Nirav Modi fraud. This wasn’t happening earlier. And this is very important in a democracy.

This has also led to analysts asking the government, as to why does it need to own 21 public sector banks. Or for that matter, should public sector banks be lending to corporates at all? Some sort of debate has been initiated on this front.

And for all this, in a very screwed up sort of way, we need to thank Nirav Modi.
The icing on the cake will be, if we are able to get Nirav Modi back to India, and the law of the land is allowed to catch up with him.

The column was originally published in Equitymaster on February 28, 2018.

The Nirav Modi Fraud Tells Us That the Business of Govt Should Not Be Business

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The government of India owns 21 public sector banks. We have been advocating over the years that the government doesn’t really need to own so many banks. It just adds to the economic mess.

In the aftermath of the Nirav Modi fraud, many other economists, businessmen and analysts, have been making this rather obvious point.

The finance minister Arun Jaitley ruled this out recently, when he said: “This (privatisation) involves a large political consensus. Also, that involves an amendment to the law (Banking Regulation Act). My impression is that Indian political opinion may not find favour with this idea itself. It’s a very challenging decision.”

The total bad loans of public sector banks as on September 30, 2017, were at Rs 6,89,806 crore. The bad loans rate was at 13.5% i.e. of every Rs 100 lent by public sector banks, Rs 13.5 had not been repaid by the borrowers.

The Nirav Modi fraud is pegged at $1.8 billion (or around Rs 11,400 crore). If the total Rs 11,400 crore is assumed as a bad loan, then the total bad loans of public sector banks will be a little over Rs 7,00,000 crore. Hence, the fraud is simply a drop in the ocean of bad loans of public sector banks.

This means that the problem is somewhere else. If we look at data as of March 31, 2017, the total bad loans of public sector banks were at Rs  6,19,265 crore. Of this around 69% or Rs 4,24,434 crore, was on account of lending to corporates. And this is where the problem lies.

One Nirav Modi and his companies are not the problem, it is the corporate sector as a whole which has been abusing the public sector banks in the country.

Of course, with such a huge amount of bad loans, the government has to constantly keep infusing capital into the public sector banks, in order to keep them going.

The hope is that with the government infusing money into these banks, they will gradually get back to full-fledged lending and in the process help the economy. Of course, there is nothing wrong with this hope but the economic incentive it creates for politicians, is totally different.

As Thomas Sowell writes in Basic Economics—A Common Sense Guide to the Economy: “Nothing is easier than to have good intentions but, without an understanding of how an economy works, good intentions can lead to counterproductive, or even disastrous, consequences for a whole nation. Many, if not most, economic disasters have been a result of policies intended to be beneficial—and these disasters could often have been avoided if those who originated and supported such policies had understood economics… [There is a] crucial importance of making a distinction between intentions and consequences. Economic policies need to be analysed in terms of the incentives they create, rather than the hopes that inspired them.”

Long story short—while implementing an economic policy, we need to be able to differentiate between what the policy hopes to achieve and the economic incentives it creates. It is ultimately, the economic incentives that are created which will decide how people react to the policy, making it effective or ineffective.

A major reason why politicians love the idea of owning public sector banks (or public sector enterprises for that matter), is that it allows them to bestow favours on their favourite industrialists (read crony capitalists).

In terms of public sector banks, this means forcing them to give out loans to businessmen, who either are not in a position or do not have any intention of repaying the loan. Hence, the government may be recapitalising banks with the hope of letting them operate at their full strength, but the real incentive for the politicians is somewhere else.

The only way of breaking this nexus between businessmen and politicians, is to privatise a bulk of the banking sector in India. If that is not possible due to regulatory hurdles (as Jaitley talked about), a bulk of public sector banks should not be lending to corporates. There activities should be limited to raising money as deposits and lending them out in the form of retail loans.

This “narrow banking” model is likely to work better simply because with a bulk of public sector banks not being allowed to give corporate loans, the politicians will not be in a position to direct lending towards their favourite corporates. With this taken out of the equation, public sector banks might just about manage to operate much more efficiently.

Also, with politicians having one lesser issue to deal with, they might just pay more attention to the other major problems that the country faces and get their heads together on tackling them.

The trouble is that the decision to get public sector banks out of lending to corporates, is to be made  by politicians. And as we saw in the column, they do not have an incentive to do anything like that. How do you deal with a problem like that?

The column originally appeared on Equitymaster on Equitymaster on Feb 26, 2018.

 

For their size, Public Sector Banks Have Had Fewer Frauds Than Private Sector Ones.

 

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A lot has been written on the jeweller Nirav Modi defrauding Punjab National Bank to the tune of $1.8 billion (or Rs 11,400 crore). One line of thought that has been pursued is that of the difference between the public sector banks and the private sector banks.

The logic offered here is that frauds happen only in public sector banks and not private sector banks. And even if they happen at private sector banks, the taxpayer does not pick up the tab. The taxpayer did pick up the tab when the private Global Trust Bank went belly up and had to be merged with the Oriental Bank of Commerce. If the bank is big enough and is going bust, the government has to ultimately come to the rescue, irrespective of whether it is privately owned or government owned. No bank of any significant size can be allowed to go bust.

Now let’s look at the first point I raised, whether public sector banks are defrauded more?

In a recent answer to a question raised in the Lok Sabha, the ministry of finance pointed out that between 2014-2015 and 2016-2017, the total number of bank frauds were 12,778.
Of these 8,622 frauds happened in public sector banks and the remaining 4,156 at private sector banks. The ratio of the total number of frauds at public sector banks to the total number of frauds at private sector banks is 2.07.

The ratio of the average assets of public sector banks to the average assets of private sector banks, between 2014-2015 and 2016-2017, is 2.95. If the ratio of frauds between the two types of banks were to be the same at 2.95, the total number of frauds at public sector banks would have amounted to 12,260 (4,156 multiplied by 2.95). This is not the case. The number of frauds is significantly lower than that. Hence, this basically means that public sector banks are having fewer frauds in terms of their size in comparison to their private sector counterparts in India.

Having said that what is true about public sector banks in general may not necessarily be true for the Punjab National Bank in particular. Punjab National Bank is the second largest public sector bank in the country. As of March 31, 2017, it had total assets worth Rs 7,20,331 crore.

In July 2017, the ministry of finance had provided some very interesting data points with regard to bank frauds. Between 2012-2013 and 2016-2017, a period of five years, the Punjab National Bank faced 942 bank frauds with losses amounting to Rs 8,999 crore.
The only other public sector bank bigger than Punjab National Bank, is the State of Bank of India. As of March 31, 2017, it had assets worth Rs 33,23,191 crore, making it significantly bigger than the Punjab National Bank.

Between 2012-2013 and 2016-2017, the State Bank of India, faced 2,786 frauds with losses amounting to Rs 6,228 crore. Even though the State Bank of India faced more frauds, its total losses were 30.8% lower than that of Punjab National Bank.

Further, of the 78 banks that data was offered on, the Punjab National Bank faced the highest losses due to frauds. It’s average loss on a fraud was also three times the overall average loss on a fraud.

This tells us very clearly that the control systems at the Punjab National Bank were weaker than in comparison to the other banks, and that allowed bigger frauds to happen. In comparison, other banks were placed better than Punjab National Bank. Does this mean that if the bank had better control systems, Nirav Modi wouldn’t have been able to defraud the bank, to the extent that he did? On that your guess is as good as mine.

The column originally appeared on Firstpost on February 20, 2018.