In October 2011, Moody’s downgraded SBI because its Tier I capital adequacy ratio dropped below 8%. Although the government has since made this up by infusing some R8,000 crore into the country’s largest lender, the downgrade showed just how vulnerable PSU banks are. So unless the government is able to give PSU banks the capital they need, or lower its equity share in them, it’s a near certainty India Inc, especially the smaller firms, is going to see a big gap in its capital requirements since PSU banks account for the lion’s share of loans today. Take a modest 17% annual growth in credit over the next 5 years, apply a flat 8% capital adequacy figure to this and you come to a figure of R8 lakh crore of capital requirement. If you take a 9% capital adequacy, you need Rs 9 lakh crore. Assuming the government owns at least 51% of PSU banks, that’s around R4-4.5 lakh crore it needs to provide over the next 5 years, but doesn’t have the budgets for this.
This is where the Banking Laws (Amendment) Bill, passed by the Lok Sabha after the finance minister dropped the controversial commodity futures clause, is so important. Theoretically, foreign banks can be expected to plug in the shortfall, but it’s not clear how many banks would be interested in venturing out beyond the larger cities. India clearly needs more banks, both for the capital they will mobilise and the new product innovations they will bring. Indian banks may not have higher NIMs than their counterparts in comparable countries—this impression is due to the different way in which they report NIMs, ours include the provision costs—but competition can’t hurt. There can be little doubt that, in several under-banked areas, other financial intermediaries have done a better job—whether in niche commercial vehicle financing or in financing poor villagers—but given these worthies also get their money from banks, the logic of getting in more firms who can mobilise more funds remains a strong one.
Past experience with new licences has been mixed but now that the central bank will be armed with powers to supersede the boards of banks and inspect the books of banks’ subsidiaries and associates—that is why RBI insisted it will not move on new licences till the Banking Bill was passed—this may be less of a problem in future, though the R500 crore minimum capital requirement for a new bank does seem low. There is little point having strong new banks if the older ones continue to be weak, and the finance minister has done well to state that consolidation among the PSU banks, large and small, is something that may be desirable.