Business World

Quick lending upturn unlikely

- L.W.T. Noble

THE FINANCIAL Institutio­ns Strategic Transfer (FIST) Law will not be enough for a “turnaround” in credit growth even as it aims to help banks offload nonperform­ing assets (NPAs), ANZ Research said in a note.

“It (FIST Law) is unlikely to trigger a credit cycle until the risk profile of borrowers improves, a developmen­t that is contingent upon a broad-based upturn in the business cycle,” ANZ Research Chief Economist Sanjay Mathur said in a note sent on Thursday.

Republic Act No. 11532 signed by President Rodrigo R. Duterte last week allows banks to get rid of soured loans and NPAs by selling them to Financial Institutio­ns Strategic Transfer Corporatio­ns (FISTCs).

Analysts have said the law could help ease banks’ worries about an increase in bad loans and eventually encourage them to lend.

Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Benjamin E. Diokno has said the law could bring down the country’s nonperform­ing loan (NPL) ratio by 0.53 to 7 percentage points. Loans and NPAs that will be deemed as nonperform­ing until Dec. 31, 2022 will be covered by the law.

Soured loans held by banks surged 78.8% year on year as of December to P391.657 billion, resulting to an NPL ratio of 3.61%. The country’s bad loan ratio peaked at 17.6% in 2002 in the aftermath of the Asian Financial Crisis.

Mr. Mathur said a “period of deleveragi­ng” or reducing debt could be necessary before banks are ready to take on risks from new loans.

“After a robust credit cycle from 2016 to early 2019, the corporate sector has become quite leveraged… Corporate leverage is already treading at a multi-year high and therefore, adding more debt would be risky,” he said.

Outstandin­g loans by big banks declined for the first time in 14 years by 0.7% in December. This followed months of already tepid growth, with November data showing credit expansion at a mere 0.5% year on year as banks were cautious amid the crisis despite about $2 trillion in liquidity infused by relief measures from the central bank as well as the reduction of benchmark interest rates to record lows.

Mr. Mathur also noted the uncertain economic environmen­t, with the household sector hit by high unemployme­nt, weak remittance­s, and falling savings.

The real estate sector was likewise severely hit by the pandemic, which also affected the lending landscape as the sector accounts for a third of outstandin­g credit, he said. These contribute­d to the tighter credit standards imposed by banks.

“Against such a backdrop, we are of the view that a revival in the credit cycle in the Philippine­s is a distant prospect, even with the implementa­tion of the FIST law. The economic situation also sheds light on why measures to enhance lending particular­ly to MSMEs (micro, small, and medium enterprise­s) have had little success so far,” Mr. Mathur said. —

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