Moody's says negative on Indian banks as corporate leverage high

Written by Reuters | Mumbai | Updated: Oct 29 2014, 21:22pm hrs
Mooodys IndiaMoody's estimated India's corporate sector had an average debt-to-equity ratio of more than 3 times. (Reuters)
High leverage in the Indian corporate sector could prevent any meaningful recovery in asset quality at lenders over the next 12-18 months, Moody's Investors Service said on Wednesday, maintaining its "negative" outlook on the country's banking sector.

Moody's estimated India's corporate sector had an average debt-to-equity ratio of more than 3 times, and would need a stronger economic recovery than currently projected by the credit agency to bring down the leverage.

"Poor asset quality will require continued provisioning and strengthened capital buffers," Moody's said.

The agency said its "negative" outlook pertained mainly to state-owned lenders that account for more than 70 percent of banking assets.

Non-performing loans were at a three-year high, although new bad loans have peaked, Moody's said.

Industry data has shown bad loans comprise around 4 percent of banking assets, while stressed loans, which include restructured loans, account for nearly 10 percent.

Moody's retains negative outlook on banks for high corp leverage

(PTI) International rating agency Moody's today retained its negative outlook on the domestic banking system, citing high leverage in the corporate sector that may prevent any meaningful recovery in asset quality.

"Our outlook for the country's banking system remains negative, as it has been since November 2011.

"The negative outlook reflects our view that high leverage in the corporate sector could prevent any meaningful recovery in asset quality, notwithstanding a moderate rebound in economic growth," the agency Moody's Investors Service said in a note issued from Singapore.

The report further said continuing poor asset quality, wherein the NPAs levels are set to touch 4.5 percent of the system, will require continued provisioning and strengthened capital buffers. After provisions, profitability of public sector banks will generate insufficient internal capital for loan growth, the report added.

The negative outlook pertains mainly to the public sector banks as they represent more than 70 percent of total banking system assets. These banks have experienced higher growth rates in non-performing and restructured loans, as well as greater weakening in profits, than their private sector peers, Moody's said.

The report says while these trends are unlikely to improve for public sector banks, in contrast, private sector banks have stronger margins, reserves, and capital levels, which serve as buffers against conditions that remain challenging.

On growth, which inched up to surprising 5.7 per cent in the first quarter of the current fiscal after logging in sub-5 percent growth in the past two fiscals, Moody's said GDP will pick up moderately this fiscal, but remains constrained by the high interest rates due to inflation.

"Our growth estimates reflect expectations for a cyclical recovery and do not incorporate assumptions of reforms which may be implemented by the new government. We expect that some policies may be formulated within the 12-18 months horizon of this outlook, but it will take longer to see an impact on the real economy.

"Our base-case forecast for GDP is 5 percent for the current fiscal and 5.6 percent for FY16, compared to 4.7 per cent in FY14 and 4.5 per cent in the year before," Moody's said.

This is one of the lowest by any agency for this fiscal as even last week the World Bank has pegged 5.6 per cent GDP print for 2014-15. While the government forecast is 5.5-6 per cent, the Reserve Bank has put a conservative 5.5 per cent GDP growth for this fiscal.

On the high leverage of the domestic corporates, the report said India Inc will remain highly leveraged, representing an obstacle to a cyclical recovery in asset quality.

"The broad corporate sector (all listed non-financial companies) has a debt-to-equity ratio of over 3 times. Of the outstanding debt, 16 percent is issued by borrowers with interest coverage ratios below 1 times, and 36 percent is issued by borrowers with coverage ratios below 2 times.

In particular, corporates engaged in infrastructure projects face both structural and cyclical challenges, as projects remain stalled by regulatory roadblocks and operationally uneconomic since they were conceived with higher growth assumptions, the report said.

"Without a stronger economic recovery, significant deleveraging will only occur beyond the horizon of this outlook," the report cautioned.