Friday, November 14, 2008

Off balance sheet hit for Indian banks?

Indian banking, we have been told, is insulated considerably from the sub prime crisis. The FM has reeled off figures for bank exposures to sub-prime and other international assets- these are extremely low in relation to the size of the Indian banking system.

Are we safe, therefore? I am not so sure. I have been going through RBI data and I am beginning to feel that some of the liquidity crunch we are experiencing now may the result of the impact of off-balance sheets items on banks. It is the subject of my last ET column, Mystery of missing liquidity.

Most people think that there is a credit shortage because corporates are substituting Indian credit for credit accessed abroad as foreign funds have dried up. This is, of course, true. But it may not be the only reason for the credit crunch. I notice that in the last three months, there is a huge surge in credit ($37 bn) -quite unusual in a non-busy season. In the same period, there is a huge forex outflow- $53 bn out of the financial year's total outflow of $56 bn.

The international financial crisis is not recent, so why the sudden surge in Indian credit and the corresponding forex outflow? My guess is that the credit surge is dollar-related. And it is not just going towards servicing imports earlier met through suppliers' credit. Much of the growth in credit, I am inclined to believe, is on account of the crystallisation of off-balance sheet obligations in the balance sheets of banks.

Banks have sold forex and other derivatives to corporates left, right and centre. Corporates would incur mark to market losses on thesee. On banks' balance sheets, they would show up as loans to be recovered from corporates. There would be forex outflows relating to settlement of transactions on maturity. There would also be heavy forex outflows involving banks remittting funds to their overseas branches. These would also show up as loans on domestic balance sheets.

Off balance sheets obligations in the Indian banking system have grown exponentially- from 56% of balance sheet in 2004-05 106% in 2007-08. In new private banks, the growth has been larger- from 173% to 301%. Foreign banks had off balance sheet obligations of 1800% of balance sheet in 2007-08. I wonder how the RBI overlooked this sort of growth in contingent obligations. Some of them appear to be coming home to roost.

In the sub-prime crisis, contingent obligations are at the root of banks' problems. There, the exposures were mostly towards securitisation vehicles and credit default swaps. In India, these obligations seem to be more in the nature of forex derivatives. Banks abroad face losses as a result of their exposures; Indian banks are seeing an 'involuntary' expansion in loans.

But the end result is the same: a shortage of credit with all its malign effects on the real economy. We need to quantify the impact of contingent obligations on Indian banks. It would be the ultimate irony if the Indian banking system, which is said to be insulated from the international crisis, were to get infected in a big way by contingent obligations.


Krishnan said...

I would be curious to find out how those banks got themselves into potential trouble with all of the regulatory machinery that was supposed to prevent them. No matter what, today, in the US, deregulation is blamed for everything that is wrong with the financial system (the reality is more complex and many have zeroed in on what the Congress did not do with Fannie/Freddie and are now desperately trying to make people forget what really happened and trying to pin all the blame on CDS and derivatives and hedge funds and what have you)

Anonymous said...

Hi all

The name's Dennis, though most people call me 'Freaky'. :P I'm in my "teens" and kinda lost in the world at the moment...however, I've found the hippie "culture" and discovered that it fits me very well...I'm not trying to fit into it, it just kind of fitted onto me.
I have lots of questions, which hopefully some of the older and wiser people on this board will be able to help answer.
Here's to hoping this board will be able to help me discover more of myself and fuel my beliefs.

thanks, Dennis from [url=]Payday Loans[/url] website!