Bankrolling the banks

| Updated on November 14, 2017 Published on January 13, 2012

A fiscally challenged government would have to infuse large sums of money into PSU banks, leading inevitably to doubts about its ability to do so.

The Reserve Bank of India's (RBI) recently released draft guidelines on the proposed implementation of international norms of capital adequacy (Basel–III) would require Indian banks to mobilise huge sums of capital during the next five years. Under the existing Basel-II norms, the Indian banking industry has to maintain total capital — drawn from a combination of equity and preference shares plus long-term debt, both accorded lower priority to monies belonging to depositors — amounting to 9 per cent of their assets calibrated suitably for riskiness (‘risk-weighted assets' or RWA). While the overall ratio has been retained under the proposed new norms, a minor reshuffle has been attempted between equity/preference stock holders and long-term bond holders in the event of a bank failure, with the former having to contribute an additional one percentage point capital to their existing 6 per cent of the total 9 per cent. Further, equity/preference share holders have to come up with an additional 2.5 percentage points in capital as a buffer for any unforeseen contingencies. That takes the aggregate capital adequacy ratio (CAR) to 11.5 per cent, of which common equity alone would make up 8 per cent. The emphasis is clearly not just on meeting a broadly defined overall CAR of 8 per cent (as it was two decades ago), but also on improving the transparency and quality of the capital base. The implementation period for all these is from January 1, 2013 to March 31, 2017.

The rationale behind fashioning a tighter capital (especially core equity) regulatory regime for banks stems largely from the banking crises that followed the global recession of 2008 and also the ongoing European sovereign debt troubles. These have created renewed concerns over the banking sector's ability to withstand financial shocks and minimise risks of spill-over to the real economy. But implementation will be a huge challenge, with the estimates of fresh capital needed to be raised by all Indian banks ranging anywhere from Rs 1.4 lakh to Rs 3 lakh crore. Given the dominance of public sector banks, it would necessitate large government infusion of funds. Where this money is going to come from, if the Centre would not even be prepared to dilute its stake below 51 per cent, is a huge question mark. This issue came to the fore not too long back, when Moody's downgraded the State Bank of India's credit rating, after its Tier-1 CAR fell below the Government's own 8 per cent prescription.

Related to this is the more immediate problem of rising non-performing assets (NPA) on account of loans to a host of troubled sectors from telecom and airlines to power. As these mount – under pressure from high interest rates and the general economic slowdown – banks would have to find resources to maintain even existing capital adequacy levels. The RBI, under the circumstances, cannot be totally oblivious to concerns over the proposed implementation schedule for Basel-III, which is seen to be rather frontloaded.

Published on January 13, 2012
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