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Examining the rise of Non-Performing Assets in India

September 13th, 2018 No comments

The issue of Non-Performing Assets (NPAs) in the Indian banking sector has become the subject of much discussion and scrutiny. The Standing Committee on Finance recently released a report on the banking sector in India, where it observed that banks’ capacity to lend has been severely affected because of mounting NPAs. The Estimates Committee of Lok Sabha is also currently examining the performance of public sector banks with respect to their burgeoning problem of NPAs, and loan recovery mechanisms available.

Additionally, guidelines for banks released by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) in February 2018 regarding timely resolution of stressed assets have come under scrutiny, with multiple cases being filed in courts against the same. In this context, we examine the recent rise of NPAs in the country, some of their underlying causes, and steps taken so far to address the issue.

What is the extent and effect of the NPA problem in India?

Banks give loans and advances to borrowers. Based on the performance of the loan, it may be categorized as: (i) a standard asset (a loan where the borrower is making regular repayments), or (ii) a non-performing asset. NPAs are loans and advances where the borrower has stopped making interest or principal repayments for over 90 days.

As of March 31, 2018, provisional estimates suggest that the total volume of gross NPAs in the economy stands at Rs 10.35 lakh crore. About 85% of these NPAs are from loans and advances of public sector banks. For instance, NPAs in the State Bank of India are worth Rs 2.23 lakh crore.

In the last few years, gross NPAs of banks (as a percentage of total loans) have increased from 2.3% of total loans in 2008 to 9.3% in 2017 (Figure 1). This indicates that an increasing proportion of a bank’s assets have ceased to generate income for the bank, lowering the bank’s profitability and its ability to grant further credit.

Escalating NPAs require a bank to make higher provisions for losses in their books. The banks set aside more funds to pay for anticipated future losses; and this, along with several structural issues, leads to low profitability. Profitability of a bank is measured by its Return on Assets (RoA), which is the ratio of the bank’s net profits to its net assets. Banks have witnessed a decline in their profitability in the last few years (Figure 2), making them vulnerable to adverse economic shocks and consequently putting consumer deposits at risk.

Capture

What led to the rise in NPAs?

Some of the factors leading to the increased occurrence of NPAs are external, such as decreases in global commodity prices leading to slower exports. Some are more intrinsic to the Indian banking sector.

A lot of the loans currently classified as NPAs originated in the mid-2000s, at a time when the economy was booming and business outlook was very positive. Large corporations were granted loans for projects based on extrapolation of their recent growth and performance. With loans being available more easily than before, corporations grew highly leveraged, implying that most financing was through external borrowings rather than internal promoter equity. But as economic growth stagnated following the global financial crisis of 2008, the repayment capability of these corporations decreased. This contributed to what is now known as India’s Twin Balance Sheet problem, where both the banking sector (that gives loans) and the corporate sector (that takes and has to repay these loans) have come under financial stress.

When the project for which the loan was taken started underperforming, borrowers lost their capability of paying back the bank. The banks at this time took to the practice of ‘evergreening’, where fresh loans were given to some promoters to enable them to pay off their interest. This effectively pushed the recognition of these loans as non-performing to a later date, but did not address the root causes of their unprofitability.

Further, recently there have also been frauds of high magnitude that have contributed to rising NPAs. Although the size of frauds relative to the total volume of NPAs is relatively small, these frauds have been increasing, and there have been no instances of high profile fraudsters being penalised.

What is being done to address the problem of growing NPAs?

The measures taken to resolve and prevent NPAs can broadly be classified into two kinds – first, regulatory means of resolving NPAs per various laws (like the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code), and second, remedial measures for banks prescribed and regulated by the RBI for internal restructuring of stressed assets.

The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC) was enacted in May 2016 to provide a time-bound 180-day recovery process for insolvent accounts (where the borrowers are unable to pay their dues). Under the IBC, the creditors of these insolvent accounts, presided over by an insolvency professional, decide whether to restructure the loan, or to sell the defaulter’s assets to recover the outstanding amount. If a timely decision is not arrived at, the defaulter’s assets are liquidated. Proceedings under the IBC are adjudicated by the Debt Recovery Tribunal for personal insolvencies, and the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) for corporate insolvencies. 701 cases have been registered and 176 cases have been resolved as of March 2018 under the IBC.

What changed recently in the RBI’s guidelines to banks?

Over the years, the RBI has issued various guidelines aimed at the resolution of stressed assets of banks. These included introduction of certain schemes such as: (i) Strategic Debt Restructuring (which allowed banks to change the management of the defaulting company), and (ii) Joint Lenders’ Forum (where lenders evolved a resolution plan and voted on its implementation). In line with the enactment of the IBC, the RBI, through a circular in February 2018, substituted all the specific pre-existing guidelines with a simplified, generic, time-bound framework for the resolution of stressed assets.

In the revised framework which replaced the earlier schemes, the RBI put in place a strict deadline of 180 days during which a resolution plan must be implemented, failing which stressed assets must be referred to the NCLT under IBC within 15 days. The framework also introduced a provision for monitoring of one-day defaults, where incipient stress is identified and flagged immediately when repayments are overdue by a day.

Borrowers whose loans were tagged as NPAs before the release of the circular recently crossed the 180-day deadline for internal resolution by banks. Some of these borrowers, including various power producers and sugar mills, had appealed against the RBI guidelines in various High Courts. A two-judge bench of the Allahabad High Court had recently ruled in favour of the RBI’s powers to issue these guidelines, and refused to grant interim relief to power producers from being taken to the NCLT for bankruptcy. All lawsuits against the circular have currently been transferred to the Supreme Court, which has now issued an order to maintain status quo on the same. This means that these cases cannot be referred to the NCLT until the Supreme Court’s decision on the circular, although the RBI’s 180-day deadline has passed. This effectively provides interim relief to the errant borrowers who had moved to court till the next hearing of the apex court on this matter, which is scheduled for November 2018.

 

 

Debt recovery in India : The 2016 Bill and what it seeks to do

August 4th, 2016 No comments

 

The Enforcement of Security Interest and Recovery of Debts Laws and Miscellaneous Provisions (Amendment) Bill, 2016 is listed for discussion in Rajya Sabha today.[i]  The Bill aims to expeditiously resolve cases of debt recovery by making amendments to four laws, including the (i) Recovery of Debts Due to Banks and Financial Institutions Act, 1993, and (ii) the Securitisation and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Interest Act, 2002.

Recovery of Debts Due to Banks and Financial Institutions Act, 1993

The 1993 Act created Debt Recovery Tribunals (DRTS) to adjudicated debt recovery cases.  This was done to move cases out of civil courts, with the idea of reducing time taken for debt recovery, and for providing technical expertise.  This was aimed at assisting banks and financial institutions in recovering outstanding debt from defaulters.

Over the years, it has been observed that the DRTs do not comply with the stipulated time frame of resolving disputes within six months. This has resulted in delays in disposal, and a high pendency of cases before the DRTs.

Between March 2013 and December 2015, the number of pending cases before the DRTs increased from 43,000 to 70,000.  With an average disposal rate of 10,000 cases per year, it is estimated that these DRTs will take about six to seven years to clear the existing backlog of cases.[ii]

Experts have also observed that the DRT officers, responsible for debt recovery, lack experience in dealing with such cases.  Further, these officers are not adequately trained to adjudicate debt-related matters.[iii]

The 2016 Bill proposes to increase the retirement age of Presiding Officers of DRTs, and allows for their reappointment.  This will allow the existing DRT officers to serve for longer periods of time.  However, such a move may have limited impact in expanding the pool of officers in the DRTs.

The 2016 Bill also has a provision which allows Presiding Officers of tribunals, established under other laws, to head DRTs.  Currently, there are various specialised tribunals functioning in the country, like the Securities Appellate Tribunal, the National Company Law Tribunal, and theNational Green Tribunal.  It remains to be seen if the skills brought in by officers of these tribunals will mirror the specialisation required for adjudicating debt-related matters.

Further, the 1993 Act provides that banks and financial institutions must file cases in those DRTs that have jurisdiction over the defendant’s area of residence or business.  In addition, the Bill allows cases to be filed in DRTs having jurisdiction over the bank branch where the debt is due.

The Bill also provides that certain procedures, such as presentation of claims by parties and issue of summons by DRTs, can now be undertaken in electronic form (such as filing them on the DRT website).

Securitisation and Reconstruction of Financial Assets and Enforcement of Security Interest Act, 2002

The 2002 Act allows secured creditors (lenders whose loans are backed by a security) to take possession over a collateral security if the debtor defaults in repayment.  This allows creditors to sell the collateral security and recover the outstanding debt without the intervention of a court or a tribunal.

This takeover of collateral security is done with the assistance of the District Magistrate (DM), having jurisdiction over the security.  Experts have noted that the absence of a time-limit for the DM to dispose such applications has resulted in delays.[iv]  The 2016 Bill proposes to introduce a 30-day time limit within which the DM must pass an order for the takeover of a security.  Under certain circumstances, this time-limit may be extended to 60 days.

The 2002 Act also regulates the establishment and functioning of Asset Reconstruction Companies (ARCs).  ARCs purchase Non-Performing Assets (NPAs) from banks at a discount.  This allows banks to recover partial payment for an outstanding loan account, thereby helping them maintain cash flow and liquidity.  The functioning of ARCs has been explained in Figure 1.

Enforcement of security

It has been observed that the setting up of ARCs, along with the use out-of-court systems to take possession of the collateral security, has created an environment conducive to lending.[iii]  However, a few concerns related to the functioning of ARCs have been expressed over the years.  These concerns include a limited number of buyers and capital entering the ARC business, and high transaction costs involved in the transfer of assets in favour of these companies due to the levy of stamp duty.[iii]

In this regard, the Bill proposes to exempt the payment of stamp duty on transfer of financial assets in favour of ARCs.  This benefit will not be applicable if the asset has been transferred for purposes other than securitisation or reconstruction (such as for the ARCs own use or investment).  Consequently, the Bill amends the Indian Stamp Act, 1899.

The Bill also provides greater powers to the Reserve Bank of India to regulate ARCs.  This includes the power to carry out audits and inspections either on its own, or through specialised agencies.

With the passage of the Bankruptcy Code in May 2016, a complete overhaul of the debt recovery proceedings was envisaged.  The Code allows creditors to collectively take action against a defaulting debtor, and complete this process within a period of 180 days.  During the process, the creditors may choose to revive a company by changing the repayment schedule of outstanding loans, or decide to sell it off for recovering their dues.

While the Bankruptcy Code provides for collective action of creditors, the proposed amendments to the SARFAESI and DRT Acts seek to streamline the processes of creditors individually taking action against the defaulting debtor.  The impact of these changes on debt recovery scenario in the country, and the issue of rising NPAs will only become clear in due course of time.

[i] Enforcement of Security Interest and Recovery of Debts Laws and Miscellaneous Provisions (Amendment) Bill, 2016, http://www.prsindia.org/administrator/uploads/media/Enforcement%20of%20Security/Enforcement%20of%20Security%20Bill,%202016.pdf.

[ii] Unstarred Question No. 1570, Lok Sabha, Ministry of Finance, Answered on March 4, 2016.

[iii] ‘A Hundred Small Steps’, Report of the Committee on Financial Sector Reforms, Planning Commission, September 2008, http://planningcommission.nic.in/reports/genrep/rep_fr/cfsr_all.pdf.

[iv] Financial Sector Legislative Reforms Commission, March 2013, http://finmin.nic.in/fslrc/fslrc_report_vol1.pdf.