Raghuram Rajan on Indian Banks

One very important contributor to macroeconomic stability is healthy banks. Banks in India have a number of stressed loans on their balance sheet. In some cases, the reality is that existing loans will have to be written down significantly because of the changed circumstances since they were sanctioned (which includes extensive project delays, cost overruns, global overcapacity, and overoptimistic demand projections). If loans are written down, the promoter brings in more equity, and other stakeholders like the tariff authorities or the local government chip in, the project may have a strong chance of revival, and the promoter will be incentivized to try his utmost to put it back on track. But to do all this deep surgery, the bank has to classify the asset as a Non Performing Asset (NPA), a label banks are eager to avoid. Alternatively, instead of deep surgery, the banks could apply band aids, they could “extend and pretend”, lending the promoter the money he needs to make loan payments. The project’s debt obligations grow, the promoter loses further interest, and the project goes into further losses.

A number of good banks in our system have taken the necessary action to recognize and resolve stressed loans in a timely fashion. But some others need to take more proactive action. Over the last few quarters, the Reserve Bank has expanded the tools banks have to recognize and deal with stressed loans. It is now working with the Government and banks to ensure that the stressed assets are dealt with on a proactive basis, and that bank balance sheets both reflect a true and fair picture, and are adequately provisioned. The Finance Minister has indicated he will support the public sector banks with capital infusions as needed. Our estimate is that the support that has been indicated will suffice, especially when coupled with other capital sources that are usually available to banks. Our various scenarios also show private sector banks will not want for regulatory capital as a result of this exercise. Finally, the RBI is also working on identifying currently non-recognizable capital that is already on bank balance sheets, such as undervalued assets. The RBI could allow some of these to count as capital as per Basel norms, provided a bank meets minimum common equity standards.

In sum, we believe enough capital is available. While the profitability of some banks may be impaired in the short run, the system, once cleaned, will be able to support economic growth in a sustainable and profitable way. To be less proactive, as our past and the history of banking across the world suggests, will only see the problem get bigger and less manageable.-from RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan’s speech

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