Tuesday, August 21, 2012

There is room for rate reduction: SBI chief

Citing State Bank of India’s example, finance minister P Chidambaram on Saturday prodded other banks to reduce EMIs to boost demand. The daily loan sanctions of the country’s largest lender have increased from 400 cars to 1,200 after EMIs were reduced from Rs 1,766 a lakh a month to Rs 1,699 a lakh a month.
Taking a cue from the minister, SBI chairman Pratip C Chaudhuri told TOI in an interview that there is scope for a further reduction in rates but the bank will be selective. Instead of an across-the-board reduction, SBI will look at sectors where lower EMIs would help push demand. Excerpts:
The FM used SBI’s example to ask other banks to reduce EMIs…
Our decision on consumer durables is the result of what the Reserve Bank has done. We decided that we will share the benefit of whatever excess SLR we are sitting on. Today, if you look at the loan demand from the corporate sector, there are very few projects that are taking off and investment is also low in power, steel or cement. As far as working capital is concerned, people are borrowing below the base rate, and they are borrowing through commercial paper. So, you can’t just push loans in this space. So, we have decided to focus on the retail side and try to push whatever demand is possible.

But why not home loans too?
In case of auto loans, the response is quicker. You sanction a loan today and the person purchases a car in two days. In case of home loans, it takes a while — if I sanction a loan today it will take a few months, if not more, for the entire amount to be disbursed.
Is there further room to reduce rates, even if it’s on the retail side?
Yes, there is room for reduction. We will reduce rates wherever there is the possibility of increasing demand. You look at the retail outlets, there is an immediate increase in demand whenever there is a discount. That’s been our experience too. We cut interest rates for SMEs and now we have done it for cars, where the demand has increased. The only way to improve sentiment is to get people to buy and get people to invest.
The FM also said that he will try to resolve problems related to environmental clearances and land acquisition. What else needs to be done?
Public sector companies and some core sector players are sitting on cash, which needs to be deployed. For instance, the railways can be asked to invest in adding new lines and capacity. Similarly, NTPC and other PSUs need to accelerate capacity addition so that others also join later.
But there are sectors such as roads where companies are unable to take up new projects as they cannot raise fresh equity…
The problem is not due to their ability to raise equity. Agencies such as NHAI, state PWD and state electricity boards are delaying payments. NHAI is invoking guarantees which is making it difficult for companies and creating uncertainty. We have flagged this issue too.
Will lending also get a boost once some of the sectoral issues such as those in power, textiles, and telecom are sorted out?
We do not have much exposure to discoms. But the fact is that they cannot run up losses and delay payments. It will certainly help if the problems are resolved. In other sectors, such as textiles, companies have suffered due to exchange rate-related problems and some of them were over leveraged. In case of telecom, there is no problem with companies that had got licences prior to 2007. They are very strong, enjoy good ratings and have the ability to put more capital. Now that spectrum can be used as a collateral, we will be in a better position to lend.
What about your own problems with NPAs? How much was it due to loan restructurings in 2008?
The worst is over and in the next two quarters, things will look better. Some of it is due to 2008. The outlook then was so buoyant that people lined up huge capital expansion and some of the demand did not materialize.
Is there any progress on capital infusion given that there are suggestions that the government may delay it due to tight fiscal position?
We will get it soon. Last year too, we received capital and the government is keen to demonstrate that it is behind banks and expanding the economy. Our internal generation is quite good and we have taken steps to use capital more efficiently. So, there is no rush at the moment.

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