Covid provisioning knocks off 27% of private banks' profit in Q1

Notably, additional Covid-19 provisioning was despite moratorium book coming down sharply in case of most of the banks.
Private banks continued to shore up their Covid-19 provisioning in the June 2020 quarter (Q1FY21), even as the moratorium on loan repayments masked asset quality stress with fewer slippages and insignificant change in gross non-performing assets (NPAs).

An analysis of top private lenders’ Q1 earnings shows on an aggregate basis, contingent provisioning made towards likely deterioration in the asset quality because of the Covid pandemic shaved about 27 per cent of their operating profit. The impact, however, varies across banks, based on segmental and customer exposure and internal risk assessment, as well as the quantum of Covid-19-related provisioning made in the March 2020 quarter (Q4FY20).

Even with this additional provisioning in Q1, total Covid-19 provisioning of this set of lenders, as of June 2020 (Q4FY20 plus Q1), stood at sub-1 per cent of their total advances, on the aggregate level.

This appears inadequate given the Reserve Bank of India's stress test analysis, published in its last week's Financial Stability Report, projects the aggregate NPA ratio of private banks to rise between 3.1 percentage points (baseline scenario) and 4.5 percentage points (very severe stress).

So, the overhang of higher credit cost will likely continue. “Though banks are cushioning themselves with additional provisioning, we believe credit cost to remain elevated in the near term,” opines Nitin Aggarwal, analyst at Motilal Oswal.
Siji Philip, senior analyst at Axis Securities, echoes Aggarwal’s views. “Credit costs have gone up significantly. But, clarity over the asset quality would emerge at the end of the September quarter, given the moratorium.” 

“We believe credit cost to be higher in the next few quarters,” she says.

 

 
The additional Covid provisioning was despite moratorium book coming down sharply for most private banks. What's important to understand is that lower moratorium is not necessarily because of clearing of all the dues of the earlier moratorium, and so, it may not fully encapsulate the softening asset quality stress. “We are still of the view that the moratorium ratio provided is not giving a clear insight into building credit cost estimate for any bank,” say analysts at Kotak Institutional Equities, in their Q1 report on HDFC Bank.

Further, there is no standard practice being followed by all banks to classify moratorium book. Thus, lenders’ collection status/efficiency is rather crucial, believe analysts.

 
On the collection front, however, banks have been prompt. For instance, even before the Covid-19 outbreak, ICICI Bank has been using an artificial intelligence-based pre-delinquency management engine to forecast its bounces.
In an analysts call after results, ICICI Bank said: “It (the pre-delinquency management engine) has been further sharpened with additional markers, such as industries directly impacted and salary uploads, among others. We strengthened our collections team by reorganising teams from sales, credit, operations and customer service... We are using API (application programming interface)-based integrations with large payment channels to ensure timely credit of the overdue amount.”

Meanwhile, with Covid provisioning, private banks witnessed up to 6-7 times jump in total provisioning and contingencies on a year-on-year (YoY) basis, though in many cases, these have declined sequentially.

Lower operational costs and treasury gains restricted the impact of higher provisioning. These 10 banks reported a profit at the net level, even as the profit-before-tax declined up to 116 per cent YoY for most, except HDFC Bank and ICICI Bank, which saw their pre-tax profit rise around 5 per cent 14 per cent, respectively. Both banks got support from higher treasury gains/income of stake sale in subsidiaries.

For most private banks, their net interest income grew over 10 per cent YoY in Q1FY21.

On the loan book front, besides muted loan demand, banks remained risk-averse, leading to a dismal offtake. Although advances were up YoY, aided by lower repayment amid moratorium, the figure was down sequentially for most banks. Philip says: “Though there may be some traction in loan book as the economy unlocks, overall credit offtake is unlikely to be strong, at least for the next few quarters.”

While microfinance business (relatively bigger for players like Bandhan and IndusInd) is expected to see good loan growth, the impact of the increasing spread of coronavirus in rural areas on their loan growth and asset quality is a key monitorable. Bandhan Bank, a microfinance major, however, has made Covid provisioning to the tune of 2.5 per cent of its loan book, the highest among the 10 players being analysed.

The other area, analysts are sceptical of, is the unsecured portfolio of private banks, and how delinquencies pan out. Therefore, management commentary for the September quarter will be crucial.



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