After the failures of IL&FS, Punjab & Maharashtra Cooperative Bank and DHFL, and the bailout of Yes Bank, the Reserve Bank of India decision to impose a 30-day moratorium on Lakshmi Vilas Bank Ltd (LVB) and put in place a draft scheme for its amalgamation with DBS Bank India, a subsidiary of DBS of Singapore, has raised concerns about the safety of the financial system.
Why was LVB put under moratorium and amalgamated with DBS Bank?
The RBI said the financial position of the Chennai-based LVB, which has a network of 563 branches and deposits of Rs 20,973 crore, has undergone a steady decline, with continuous losses over the last three years eroding the bank’s net-worth.
The bank has not been able to raise adequate capital to address these issues. It was also experiencing continuous withdrawal of deposits and low levels of liquidity. Serious governance issues in recent years have led to deterioration in its performance. LVB posted a net loss of Rs 397 crore in the September quarter of FY21, as against a loss of Rs 112 crore in the June quarter. Almost one fourth of the bank’s advances have turned bad assets. Its gross non-performing assets (NPAs) stood 25.4% of its advances as of June 2020, as against 17.3% a year ago.
A recent merger proposal had come from AION-backed Clix Capital but the discussions didn’t work out. The bank was earlier wooed by SREI Capital. It almost tied up with Indiabulls Housing Finance, but the RBI objected to the merger proposal. The bank management had indicated to the RBI that it was in talks with certain investors, but failed to submit any concrete proposal.
Are depositors and the financial system safe?
The RBI, which put a cap of Rs 25,000 on withdrawals, has assured depositors of the bank that their interest will be protected. The combined balance sheet of DBS India and LVB would remain healthy after the proposed amalgamation, with Capital to Risk Weighted Assets Ratio (CRAR) at 12.51% and Common Equity Tier-1 (CET-1) capital at 9.61%, without taking into account the infusion of additional capital.
The RBI had earlier this year bailed out Yes Bank through a scheme backed by State Bank of India and other banks. One safety net for small depositors is the Deposit Insurance and Credit Guarantee Corporation (DICGC), an RBI subsidiary, which gives insurance cover on up to Rs 5 lakh deposits in banks. The RBI and the government have often assured that the financial system is safe and sound, but a spate of failures have the potential to affect the confidence of depositors.
What has gone wrong with the sector?
The collapse of IL&FS in 2018 had set off a chain reaction in the financial sector, leading to liquidity issues and defaults. Punjab & Maharashtra Co-op Bank was hit by a loan scam involving HDIL promoters and the bank is yet to be bailed out. The near-death experience of Yes Bank in March 2020 sent jitters among depositors. The RBI action against LVB was expected after shareholders recently voted against the appointment of seven directors to its board.
Old-generation private banks had come under the spotlight, with shareholders of LVB and Dhanlaxmi Bank recently firing their chief executive officers in the span of a week. The LVB episode started unfolding after the RBI and banks led by SBI bailed out fraud-hit Yes Bank. The RBI has been monitoring the performance of private banks and large NBFCs.
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What happens to investors in these banks?
Shareholders in Yes Bank faced a significant erosion in wealth as the stock price crashed below Rs 10 per share from a peak of Rs 400 per share. In the case of LVB, equity capital is being fully written off. This means existing shareholders face a total loss on their investments unless there are buyers in the secondary market who may ascribe some value to these. Shares of LVB closed at 20% lower circuit Wednesday. In its draft scheme for the amalgamation, the RBI said that “On and from the appointed date, the entire amount of the paid-up share capital and reserves and surplus, including the balances in the share/securities premium account of the transferor bank, shall stand written off.”
In the case of Yes Bank, too, some individual investors faced a total loss on their investments in AT-1 bonds. Nearly Rs 9,000 crore worth of AT-1 bonds sold to various institutional investors, and to high net worth individual investors in the secondary market, were fully written off. As per RBI rules based on the Basel-III framework, AT-1 bonds have principal loss absorption features, which can cause a full write-down or conversion to equity. 📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram
What are the issues facing old-generation private banks?
The functioning of many such banks has been under scrutiny in the last couple of years, as most of them do not have strong promoters, making them targets for mergers or forced amalgamation. Two other South-based banks – South Indian Bank and Federal Bank – have been operating as board-driven banks without a promoter. In Karur Vysya Bank, the promoter stake is 2.11%, and in Karnataka Bank, there’s no promoter. The problems in LVB follow the similar challenges faced by Yes Bank as well as Punjab & Maharashtra Co-operative Bank in recent times.
What has been the regulatory response to these failures?
On July 24, 2004, the RBI, then headed by Y V Reddy, announced a moratorium on private sector lender Global Trust Bank, which was then reeling under huge losses and bad loans. The bank was merged with public sector Oriental Bank of Commerce within 48 hours under an RBI-led rescue plan.
Nearly 16 years later, the RBI has followed a somewhat similar approach on resuscitation of the troubled lenders of Yes Bank and now LVB. The moratorium announcement was followed by a reconstruction plan for Yes Bank and capital infusion by banks and financial institutions, with State Bank of India, ICICI Bank, Kotak Mahindra Bank, HDFC, Axis Bank and others putting in equity capital in the reconstructed entity. While banking observers agree that the RBI has acted whenever a bank or an NBFC faced trouble, the question remains whether it made the interventions swiftly.
Will loan stress caused by the pandemic impact the banking system?
NPAs in the banking sector are expected to increase as the pandemic affects cash flows of people and companies. However, the impact will differ depending upon the sector, as segments like pharmaceuticals and IT seem to have benefited in terms of revenues. NPA accretion in cash-rich sectors like IT, pharmaceuticals, FMCG, chemicals, automobiles is expected to be smaller when compared to areas like hospitality, tourism, aviation and other services.
An expert committee headed by K V Kamath recently came out with recommendations on the financial parameters required for a one-time loan restructuring window for corporate borrowers under stress due to the pandemic. Corporate sector debt worth Rs 15.52 lakh crore has come under stress after Covid-19 hit India, while another Rs 22.20 lakh crore was already under stress. This effectively means Rs 37.72 crore (72% of the banking sector debt to industry) remains under stress. Companies in sectors such as retail trade, wholesale trade, roads and textiles are facing stress, whie NBFCs, power, steel, real estate and construction were already under stress when the pandemic began.
This article first appeared in the print edition on November 19, 2020 under the title ‘What a failed bank means’.
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