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Loans worth Rs 8 lakh crore written off by Indian banks in the last decade

Among private banks, the biggest loan write-off during the year was by ICICI Bank, which wrote off loans worth Rs 10,952 crore followed by Rs 10,169.27 crore by Axis Bank and HDFC Bank which wrote off Rs 8,254 crore, the data showed.

Are these figures alarming?

Loan write-off happens when efforts for resolution fails and hence increase in loan write-off should be seen as a sign of stress in the banking system. However, it is important that these figures need to be seen in context.

loan write off

As a percentage of total advances in the banking system (around Rs 92.6 lakh crore as on March 2020), total written-off loans during the year stand at 2.56 percent. In the year before (when Rs 2,36,312 crore of loans were written off), this was 2.72 percent. This means as a percentage of the total outstanding loans in the banking system, yearly loan write-off figures have come down slightly.

Loan write-offs happen when banks feel chances of recovery from borrower account are almost nil. Lenders need to make provisions (money set aside to cover the losses) against such accounts. The provisioning can rise up to 100 percent of the loan fully goes bad. Hence, write-offs impact the profitability of banks.

“ Loan write-offs went up last year because many expected recoveries didn’t happen. This was due to the economic situation,” said Sidhharth Purohit, an analyst at SMC Global securities.

“Even if the loan is written off, banks have to provide for the losses and hence loan write-offs do not come as a surprise to the markets, Purohit said. Also, some recoveries can happen from such accounts in future, Purohit said.

RBI caution

In its latest Trend and Progress report, the RBI said Scheduled Commercial Banks’ (SCBs) gross non-performing assets (GNPA) ratio declined from 9.1 percent at end-March 2019 to 8.2 percent at end-March 2020 and further to 7.5 percent at end-September 2020. But the decline in gross NPAs in the banking system was largely aided by loan write-offs, the central bank said.

“The reduction in NPAs during the year was largely driven by write-offs. NPAs older than four years require 100 percent provisioning and, therefore, banks may prefer to write them off,” the RBI said.

“In addition, banks voluntarily write off NPAs in order to clean up their balance-sheets, avail tax benefits and optimise the use of capital. At the same time, borrowers of written-off loans remain liable for repayment,” the RBI said.

The modest GNPA ratio of 7.5 percent at end-September 2020 veils the strong undercurrent of slippage, the central bank said.

Further, large borrowal accounts or accounts where exposure is Rs 5 crore and above, constituted 79.8 percent of NPAs and 53.7 percent of total loans at end September 2020, the RBI said.

The share of SMA-0 (Special mention accounts) witnessed a sharp rise in September 2020. These accounts are those where principal or interest payment not overdue for more than 30 days but account showing signs of incipient stress.

This may be an initial sign of stress after lifting of moratorium on August 31, 2020, the RBI said. However, the share of other categories of SMAs, SMA-1 and SMA-2 remained at a relatively lower level, the RBI said. SMA accounts are accounts where repayment is overdue for 60-90 days, the RBI said



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