Headwinds remain: We maintain our Add rating as the business environment remains challenging, especially with banks finding it difficult to pass on the rising cost of funds. We are cautious about the bank loan impairment/credit costs as we see them rising from current levels as economic growth is muted and companies have leveraged balance sheets. A comfortable capital position, a flexible business model that allows the bank to shift to retail loans and a high retail liabilities base drive our positive rating.
Maintain Add despite inexpensive valuation: We maintain the Add rating noting that valuations probably factor partial headwinds facing the bank, especially with respect to risks of loan impairment. We value the bank at 1.4x (times) book and 10x EPS (12 months forward) for RoE (return of equity) of 15%. We see limited earnings growth in the medium term as we expect credit costs to remain high.
Axis Bank's trading premium to peers is near its lowest at 0.6x, compared to a five-year average of 0.xX. Our positive rating is driven by (i) healthy tier-1 ratio of 12.3%, (ii) healthy liability profile (70% CASA and retail term deposits) and (iii) flexibility of the business model to shift to retail loans.
Cautious about corporate growth: Axis Bank’s pace of shift to retail loans has been quite surprising with the share of retail loans increasing to 30% of total loans from 20% in less than two years. Growth in loans to large companies has dropped to less than 10% year-on-year and importantly, the exposure of the top 10 sectors (funded) has been declining gradually. The flexibility of the bank’s model, allowing it to shift from corporate to retail loans gives confidence that it is well positioned to leverage opportunities in different segments.
Not too positive about impairment ratios: Axis Bank continues to report a fairly strong loan portfolio with relatively low impairment ratios, despite increasing stress in sectors (like infrastructure) where the bank has large exposure. With a large share of assets becoming operational/ closer to operational, we are concerned about the debt servicing capabilities of many private power companies. Large companies continue to benefit from fresh lines of credit or other refinancing methods, which is probably ensuring lower default ratios.
NIM to decline gradually; shift to retail could impact loan yields: We expect NIM (net interest margin) to remain under pressure especially after short-term rates increased sharply in recent months and the shift in assets to the low-yielding retail segment. Its ability to transfer high costs is high as less than 10% of loans are fixed rate in nature (auto, personal loans and credit cards).
Book quality vulnerable to stressed companies: Axis Bank continues to report a fairly strong loan portfolio with low loan impairment (gross NPLs or restructuring). The management has maintained that the broad additions to NPLs/restructured loans and credit costs would be similar to those seen over the past few quarters. Half of Axis Bank’s loans to large companies, out of which 17% is to stressed sectors (metals, infrastructure), including power (5%). Out of the bank’s total funded exposure, 3% is to power at R97 bn and non-funded exposure is another R160 bn. As the commissioning cycle gathers pace, almost 50% of private companies in the power sector (25% of the total power-sector exposure) will probably not have sufficient cash flows to meet their debt and interest obligations, which places the bank at increased risk of deterioration in asset quality. We believe some of these companies will be able to refinance debt through foreign currency loans or access fresh lines of credit to replace maturing ones over the next few quarters, at least, thereby delaying stress in the bank.
Besides, the bank has moderated growth in loans to large companies to less than 10% over the past few quarters, against over 20% before FY12. The bank has also reduced concentration of loans to the top 10 sectors to 40% from 60% in FY11.
Retail business drives fee income growth: Axis Bank has the highest share of fee income to assets among its peers at 1.5% of loans, which we think would be difficult to sustain given the slowdown in business, cautious outlook on select off-balance sheet exposure in the corporate portfolio and the high competition in retail loans.
We expect fee income growth of less than 15% CAGR (compound annual growth rate) over FY13-15e (estimates) against less than 20% CAGR over FY09-13. The contribution of retail banking fees to total fees is 31%, up from 25% in FY12 following a shift in management focus to the retail business.
—Kotak Institutional Equities