PETALING JAYA: Despite the banking sector showing healthy signs such as a brighter outlook with higher loan growth and profitability, gross impaired loans (GIL), however, could still weigh on the sector. How the asset quality of banks would evolve this year will depend on the duration of the current movement control order (MCO 2.0) that is implemented to curb the pandemic. Analysts and economists are pencilling in a GIL ratio of 1.76% to 3.5% for this year. For November last year, GIL ratio stood at 1.53% compared with 1.41% in October the same year. For December 2019, the ratio stood at 1.53% against 1.48% in December 2018. Although these figures are still relatively manageable compared with 4.8% in December 2008, it still poses a stress on the asset quality of banks. CLICK TO ENLARGERHB Investment Bank head of regional equity research Alexander Chia said he expects the GIL ratio to rise in 2021. He said this is due to the expiry of the blanket moratorium (which ended in September 2020) and MCO 2.0, adding that it could be much higher had the government not introduced the various relief measures, including the moratorium. “We are already seeing sector GIL ratio trending north based on the November 2020 data, mainly driven by higher household GIL ratio. However, we note that banks have been setting aside preemptive provisions in 2020. Our GIL ratio projection for 2021 is 1.76%, ” he told StarBiz. Bank Islam Malaysia Bhd chief economist Mohd Afzanizam Abdul Rashid (pic below) views the Permai package as positive for the banking sector. Mohd Afzanizam Abdul Rashid For example, the extension of wage subsidy programme and Geran Khas Prihatin, along with the microcredit scheme, would help businesses in their cash flow and improve the ability to service their debt. He said rising GILs have always been the key risk factor under the present scenario, as this ratio has been inching upwards from 1.38% in September to 1.41% and 1.53%, in October and November, respectively last year. Following this, banks have been proactive in assessing the credit risks and have prepared themselves for any eventualities. RAM’s co-head of financial institution ratings Wong Yin Ching (Pic below) said the recent extension of MCO 2.0 for an additional nine days from the initial two-week curtailment highlights the uncertainty still prevailing in containing the pandemic. Wong Yin Ching “While the disruption to business activities will weaken some borrowers’ debt-servicing ability, the impact on banks’ asset quality is likely to be contained as targeted repayment assistance (TRA) remains available to SMEs and individuals. “Moreover, banks are proactive in restructuring or rescheduling (R&R) corporate loans. These measures will curb delinquencies that could otherwise occur. “As such, the proportion of domestic loans under the TRA and R&R is anticipated to rise from the estimated 11% (average figure based on November 2020 data) for selected eight local banks, ” she said. Wong said RAM’s loan growth projection of 2%-3% and worst-case GIL ratio of 3%-3.5% for 2021 remains. OCBC Bank economist Wellian Wiranto (pic below) agreed that the Permai package was good for the banking sector. Wellian Wiranto From the banking perspective, the broader applicability of a wage subsidy scheme would potentially help more households and businesses better cope with the situation and increase their ability to service their loans. “As a whole, the package might not be enough to resuscitate demand and boost loans volume per se but by limiting the initial damage and countering the possibility of negative ripple effects, it is nonetheless helpful, ” he said. CGS-CIMB Research analyst Winson Ng, however, expects the Permai package to have a minimal impact on the banks as it is aimed at helping individuals and businesses affected by the pandemic. Given that banks have been offering repayment assistance since October 2020, he said his projection for GIL ratio remains at 2% for end-2021. A spike in Covid-19 cases would have a negative impact on banks but Ng still projects a net profit growth for banks this year. He attributed this to banks having frontloaded the loan loss provisioning last year and the outlook for net interest margin to be better this year compared to 2020. He added that this is because the research house only expects an overnight policy rate cut of 25 basis points (bps) this year versus 125bps in 2020. AmBank Research banking analyst Kelvin Ong views the extension of the of target payment assistance under the package to keep a lid on the asset quality ratio from rising sharply. “We expect the GIL ratio to be lower than 2.5% due to the extension of the targeted payment assistance, ” he said. Ong expects economic recovery to be uneven due to the latest wave of the pandemic and movement restrictions, resulting in a challenging first half. However, he expects a stronger footing for banks in the second half of the year.
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