By Subhash Narayan
As the Central government draws a plan to privatise at least two public sector banks (PSB) this fiscal, it has also decided to front load capitalisation of state-owned banks so that the balance sheets of some of these entities are strengthened ahead of possible sale.
Sources said that PSBs may be provided this year just after their first quarter results before October. This would be a departure from the practice of previous year when bank capitalisation was undertaken late in the year and towards the end of fiscal.
Even in FY21, a substantial portion of capital was released right at end of the fiscal year in March.
“Front loading of capital will help PSBs to strengthen their financials that may again get impacted this year with weak lending and stress coming back on a lot of their credit assets with Covid pandemic continuing to disrupt businesses. This could also help in taking out weak banks out of the PCA (prompt corrective action) framework that would be helpful in their possible privatisation this year,” said an official source on the condition of anonymity.
The Budget 2021-22 has allocated Rs 20,000 crore towards recapitalisation of PSBs to help them consolidate their financial capacity.
Source said that more than two-third of this capital may be provided by the second quarter.
The government had earlier indicated that banks under prompt corrective action (PCA) framework or weaker banks would be kept out of privatisation as it would be difficult to find buyers for them. This would have left three PSBs, Indian Overseas Bank, Central Bank and UCO Bank, out of the government’s disinvestment plan.
But now the thinking is that they could be brought out of PCA as there are visible signs of improvement in some of the key parameters such as profitability and asset quality (in net NPA terms as they have stepped up provisioning) in the last 3-4 quarters. This could allow them to be considered for privatisation.
Provision of capital earlier in the year will give the necessary boost to them.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had announced in her Budget speech this year that two state-run banks along with IDBI Bank would be privatised in FY22.
She also said that one general insurance company would be sold off in the current fiscal.
The recapitalisation roadmap is being redrawn for the PSBs in the current fiscal as the institutions are expected to face stress from the pandemic disruptions with fears that asset quality may further weaken like last year.
Also, the changes in valuation norms AT1 bonds has made the instrument less attractive for banks to raise their capital.
SEBI, though has amended the valuation rule of perpetual bonds in line with objections raised by the finance ministry, it still has said that from April 2023 onwards, the residual maturity of AT-1 bonds will become 100 years from the date of issuance of the bond. This will make the most used route of raising capital by banks less attractive.
Sources said that the Finance Ministry has already started a preliminary exercise to determine the capital requirement of banks in wake of limitations on fund raising norms and expected rise in bad assets during the time of the pandemic. Based on the inputs received by banks, additional capital may be provided to them from budgetary resources at the earliest.
On its part, government is strengthening the banking segment by merger and amalgamation of PSBs.
Since 2017, this exercise has resulted in seven large and five smaller PSBs.
The measures (based on bad loans and regional factors) were intended to help manage capital more efficiently. But emerging regulatory needs and pandemic affected businesses continue to pose challenges for banking segment.
(Subhash Narayan can be contacted at [email protected])