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Credit freeze: Banks’ board jittery over bleak income

By Babajide Komolafe
The prospect of bleak turnover due to the credit freeze in the banking industry has become a source of concern for the boards of some banks and thus their executive management. Bankers are worried that with low income the banks are getting now prospects of robust dividend is ruled out which is the bottom line for all investors. Bank boards and their executive management will be facing hard times with shareholders at this year annual meeting.

Sanusi

According to a top banker who spoke to Vanguard last week “Most banks’ board and management are becoming jittery over shrinking income. When you have overheads to pay for and have to face shareholders at the end of the year, you would be concerned that your bank is not lending because it is through that you make income”, he added

“Eventually the boards might be compelled to take the bull by the horn and insist on a change in attitude to lending. Though good credits are few, the fear of poor income performance might force banks to go out there and look for credits. And what would happen is that banks would begin to categorise credits.”

Vanguard investigations revealed that the lacklustre attitude to lending has assumed a worrisome dimension among top management staff in banks.

In some of the banks, the interest income performance for the first two months of the year is far below target. And the reason is that credit extension is at unprecedentedly low levels. Giving a graphic picture of the situation, a senior treasurer said, “In the past we get directive to fund credit of  N 2 billion or of N 3 billion. But these days what we have is directive to fund N 10 million or N 20 million. How do you make money with that volume of credit? He asked.

This was further confirmed by the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) which reported decline in money supply into the economy occasioned by decline in credit to the domestic economy.

According to the MPC, Broad money supply declined by 3.11 per cent in January. It also indicated that credit to domestic economy on annualised basis fell by 22.44 per cent while credit to private sector fell by 16.20 per cent.
Vanguard investigations also revealed that total value of cheques cleared in Lagos area was down 14 per cent to N 881 billion in February. This according to the MPC indicates,“ that the private sector  particularly, small and medium enterprises, were being starved of the much-needed credit.”

This according to the Committee resulted to weak aggregate demand and hence a sharp fall in the economic growth rate for the first quarter of the year as reflected by the gross domestic product (GDP). Provisional data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) indicates that real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will grow by 6.68 per cent in the first quarter of 2010, down from 8.23 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2009.

Realising the inherent dangers the credit freeze poses to the growth of the economy especially the 7.53 per cent growth rate target for 2010, “The MPC further stressed the need to unlock the credit market.”

And to achieve this the Committee reduced the interest rate on banks’ deposit with the CBN (standing deposit facility) to 1.0 per cent from 2.0 per cent. It also, provided N 500 billion facility for investment in debentures issued by the Bank of Industry (BOI) for investment in emergency power projects dedicated to industrial clusters.

The funds are to be channelled through the Bank of Industry  for on-lending to the DMBs at a maximum interest rate of 1.0 per cent for disbursement of loans with a tenor of 10 – 15 years at concessionary interest rate of not more than 7.0 per cent. The Committee also approved in principle the extension of this facility to DMBs for the purpose of refinancing/ restructuring existing portfolios to manufacturers.

However, bankers reacting to these new policy measures by the monetary authorities  said that these  measures though laudable are not far reaching enough to effectively unlocking credits into the economy.

“They do not address the real reason why banks are not lending”, said a senior treasury officer in one of the rescued banks. “There is restraint in the industry”, he said.

“There is fear in the market. People do not know who to give credit to”, said another treasurer. This, he said is because good credit had gone bad in the past. “There were credit that were subjected to all the necessary risk appraisals and were termed good credits but they went bad. So people are afraid to lend because they do not want to lose money and be hoarded by agent of Economic and Financial Crime Commission again. The confidence level is very low, though it would return, it would be gradual and it will take some time”, he said.

Another top banker said that while the N 500 billion initiative for the real sector is good especially the refinancing aspect for previous power and manufacturing projects, nothing will change between now and the next MPC meeting. Retaining the CBN deposit rate at 1.0 per cent is not enough to discourage banks from keeping their money with the apex bank. The CBN will have to reduce its deposit rate to zero per cent”.

These views were corroborated by the  Managing Director/Chief Executive, Financial Derivatives Company Limited, Mr. Bismark Rewane in a monthly economic news and views presented at the   Lagos Business School  Executive Breakfast meeting last week. He said, “The MPC acknowledgement of a credit crisis is a healthy development at a time of national self deception. The decisions of the committee do not address the credit crisis. The credit crunch is unlikely to ease anytime soon. The ghost of and extreme level of risk aversion in the banking system will not be exorcised with this measure”.

The implication is that despite these laudable measures, the motive for banks to open their vault and start lending to the economy is still not there. The apex bank will have to address the psychological barrier of fear, uncertainty and low confidence in the banking industry to unlock credit.

And the MPC itself alluded to this. “Members also observed that there is sufficient liquidity in the money market as suggested by the low interbank interest rates, but that the perception of credit risk on the part of the DMBs remained a major constraint to their ability to lend to the real sector of the economy.”

All this reinforces the palpable fear in banks’ boards that income and profitability and hence  dividend  for shareholders  might be far below expected for the 2010 operating year.


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Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.