Mumbai: Rating agency Fitch has downgraded its outlook on the Indian banking sector to negative, from stable, due to more downside risks emanating from rising stressed loans and weak corporate earnings, which may further roil banks.
The agency has affirmed long-term ratings of nine banks, including State Bank of India, Bank of Baroda and its New Zealand arm, Punjab National Bank, Canara Bank, IDBI Bank, ICICI Bank and Axis Bank, at 'BBB-'
"We have revised our sector outlook to negative from stable implying that there are more downside risks for Indian banks' viability ratings (VRs) unless the risks of deteriorating asset quality and weak earnings are counterbalanced by sizeable capital infusions," the agency said in a report on Tuesday.
Banking sector non-performing loans (NPL) rose sharply in 2015-16 to over 13 per cent, or over Rs 8 lakh crore, as of March as a result of stricter NPL recognition standards.
According to the recently released Financial Stability Report of the Reserve Bank of India, gross non-performing loans of banks jumped to 7.6 per cent in March 2016, from 5.1 per cent in September 2015.
Fitch said the asset quality could deteriorate further over the next 12-18 months, given the banks' exposure to stressed sectors, such as infrastructure and iron and steel and the difficult resolution process for stressed assets in the near-term.
"Earnings of banks are also likely to be weak due to muted loan growth and high credit costs," the agency said.
Banks' capital positions have historically been weak but the situation has worsened for most public sector banks due to delayed recognition of problem assets and high loan loss provisions, and will remain weak in the near term unless the government makes significant capital investment in the banks, the report said.
The government is committed to inject Rs 70,000 crore in public-sector banks by fiscal 2018-19. Out of this, Rs 25,000 crore will be infused this fiscal year and Rs 18,000 crore shortly.
Fitch estimates the banking system needs around $90 billion capital and several public-sector banks are likely to find it difficult to access new capital from other sources, the report said.
"If fully implemented, the reforms should lead to better lending practices, earlier recognition of problem exposures, improved creditor rights, greater transparency, and a better capitalised and more competitive banking system," the report said.
Fitch also affirmed long-term issuer default ratings of Indian Bank at 'BB+'. While the IDRs of Canara and IDBI are affirmed, their VRs have been downgraded by one notch to 'BB' and 'BB-' respectively.
"Both banks' capital positions are at greater risk because stressed assets have increased at faster pace than capital replenishment," the report said.