Uptick in loan defaults likely

PETALING JAYA: Higher loan defaults, among individual borrowers and corporates, are expected to emerge as interest rate hikes to reduce inflationary pressures grip the economy.

Although the higher rates are good news for banks in terms of profitability, they may also result in loan defaults in the near term.

UCSI University assistant professor in finance Liew Chee Yoong, who is also a fellow at the Centre for Market Education, said the gross impaired loans (GIL) ratio would be higher due to the latest interest rate hike.

UCSI University assistant professor in finance Liew Chee YoongUCSI University assistant professor in finance Liew Chee Yoong

“The rise in interest rates will raise the interest expense of loan borrowers and increase their financial risk.

“Therefore, I will not be surprised if more individual and corporate borrowers will be in financial distress due to higher interest servicing this year.

“More loans will be impaired due to the higher likelihood of credit default by borrowers,” he added.

The GIL ratio is defined as gross impaired loans as a percentage of gross loans, advances and financing.

Bank Negara has raised its overnight policy rate (OPR) by 25 basis points (bps) to 2.25% on July 6 amid positive economic growth prospects. It was the second consecutive increase after the 25 bps hike in May, which was also the first time the OPR was raised since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The OPR, which is a benchmark rate that allows banks to determine their lending and deposit rates, had been reduced by a cumulative 125 bps during the pandemic to a historic low of 1.75%.

RAM Rating Services Bhd co-head of financial institution ratings Wong Yin Ching said higher interest rates could impinge on some highly leveraged borrowers, although most borrowers would likely be able to absorb the slightly higher loan instalments.RAM co-head of Financial Institution Ratings Wong Yin Ching.RAM co-head of Financial Institution Ratings Wong Yin Ching.“We may see the banking sector’s GIL ratio rise to 2.5% by end-2022, which is still deemed manageable in our view.

“Provisioning expenses, however, are not anticipated to increase in tandem with impaired loans as banks had judiciously built up provisioning reserves since the start of the pandemic.

“With most of the loan relief measures being progressively wound down in the first half of the year, defaults have begun to trend up,” she added.

The banking industry’s GIL ratio rose from 1.5% as of end-December 2021 to 1.64% as of end-May.

CGS-CIMB Securities analyst Winson Ng also expected higher GIL ratios this year.

“We expect the gross impaired loan ratio to increase 1.8% to 2% at end-December due to the credit risks from the Covid-19 and negative impact from higher inflation and interest-rate hikes.

“Headwinds, including higher inflation, could also be negative for asset quality and loan growth,” he said.

AmResearch banking analyst Kelvin Ong saw a gradual uptick in GIL ratio as the broad repayment assistance (including the Pemulih moratorium) had expired at end-June.

Asset quality ratio for the sector is expected to be higher at around 2% compared with 1.4% as of end December 2021, amid the transition towards targeted repayment assistance, according to him.

Commenting on the downside risk for the sector this year, Ong said: “Any prolonged or worsening supply chain disruptions will impact the pace of economic recovery and consequently affect our estimates for earnings growth of banks.

“Higher inflation pressures will impact consumer spending as well as profit margins of business loan borrowers which will lead to a potential deterioration in asset quality.”

Although most analysts expected the higher net interest margins (NIMs) to boost banks’ earnings from the latest OPR hike, UCSI’s Liew disagreed.

“I don’t think the higher OPR will improve the NIMs of banks. My prediction is that it will be reduced due to lowering demand for bank loans, which reduces the banks’ interest income and average earning asset value (that is, the amount of bank loans that are given out to borrowers).

“The increase in interest rates by the central bank will reduce the demand for bank loans from companies and individuals as the cost of financing becomes more expensive,” he said.

On the other hand, Liew said lenders would need to continue paying interest to risk-averse depositors who put their monies in banks during an economic uncertainty and this would reduce the NIMs.

According to RAM’s Wong, rising interest rates are a boon to NIMs as a majority of the domestic banking industry’s loans are floating-rate facilities, which would reprice faster than deposits.

That said, Wong added that the uplift in NIMs would be moderated by the increasingly deposit competition, as well as slower current and savings account expansion as some depositors go for term deposits.

Overall, Wong said the average NIMs of some local banks are expected to broaden slightly this year from the 2.28% registered in 2021.

NIM is a measure of the difference between the interest income generated by banks and the amount of interest paid out to deposits.

CGS-CIMB’s Ng, who forecast loan growth of 4% to 5% for this year, is projecting a 4% net profit growth, mainly driven by the OPR hike and lower loan loss provisioning.

Ong is maintaining a loan growth projection of 5% to 6% this year, premised on an expected gross domestic product expansion of 5.6% this year.

With the additional taxes due to Cukai Makmur or prosperity tax, the earnings growth for banks are expected to be flat at 1.5% this year, according to Ong.

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loans , defaults , OPR , RAM Rating , GIL , NIM


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