LAHORE: Swiss based Credit Suisse has rated Pakistani banks the best performers in Asia over the past three years and second-best in the past five years as the country enjoyed a substantial reduction in the cost of equity since 2013.
In a research-based analysis of Pakistan’s economy and its impact on the banking sector of Pakistan, Credit Suisse praised the pro-business economic policies of the present government earning laurels from global agencies.
It states up-tick in public and private investment, higher domestic consumption in the midst of a low inflationary environment, and better energy availability (from LNG imports) as likely key drivers of accelerating GDP growth in FY16-17 to 4.9-5.3 percent compared to FY9-15, when growth averaged 3.2 percent.
Pakistan's macro recovery is largely on track with substantial improvement in most macro indicators. Fiscal deficit is expected to ease to 4.7 percent of GDP led by a combination of higher tax revenues, contained current expenditures and subsidy pull-back. Forex reserves are close to record highs of $21 billion as of early Jan-2016 equivalent to five months of import bill, driven by windfall gains of lower oil prices and rising remittances. External account stability is also corroborated by a 72 percent decline in the current account deficit over the same period.
Pakistan stands on the verge of an investment-led growth cycle where investment-to-GDP ratio should rise to 15.5 percent in FY16 and 17.0 percent in FY17 from current 13.5 percent. Companies according to researchers are actively pursuing capacity expansions in a broad range of sectors such as auto, consumer, cement and hospital.
The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is being touted as a game changer and is believed to provide a solution to Pakistan’s medium- to long-term energy needs via substantial investment in coal, hydropower, solar and wind power projects. Importantly, other areas such as transmission networks are also being overhauled, which were generally ignored in previous plans.
The CPEC, with a price tag of $46 billion spread across energy and infrastructure projects, is becoming more of a reality as compared to a few months ago.
Net FDI from China in the first half of FY16 is up 122 percent YoY and its share in total FDI stands at 64 percent up from 30 percent last year.
With real interest rates still elevated at 3.2 percent, the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) should not be in a rush to tighten rates as yet, says Credit Suisse. For the past seven years, loan demand had slumped to single digits as gross fixed capital formation stalled, which means real loan growth was negative.
This should pick up going forward as the economy benefits from rate cuts, as well as due to the Chinese investment plans in the country's infrastructure.
Subdued loan growth and mid-teens' deposit growth have resulted in Pakistani banks' loan-deposit ratio falling to 45 percent from 75-80 percent during 2005-09. This will come handy as loan demand picks up, while banks enjoy handsome capital gains on their bond portfolios.
Due to subdued loan demand, banks had aggressively shifted their investment mix towards higher-yielding long-duration Pakistan Investment Bonds (PIBs) from the traditional short-term T-bills, keeping margins flattish in 2015. That said, a maturing PIB portfolio (from July 16) coupled with the re-pricing of shorter-tenure bonds and predominantly floating loan book is likely to drag margins down in 2016.
Substantial deleveraging of the balance sheet has led to asset quality improvements for private sector banks. As a result, NPL ratios declined to 8.9 percent in the third quarter of FY15 from a peak of 12.5 percent in 1Q11. Concerns appear to emerge on the international portfolio, particularly in the Middle East against the backdrop of prolonged weakness in international oil prices. Both UBL (15 percent) and HBL (12 percent) have sizeable credit exposures in the Middle East, which appear to be at risk of deterioration.
Quoting DuPont comparison of Pakistani banks with Asian banks, Credit Suisse pointed out that Pakistani banks have second best net interest margins at 4.54 percent in 2015; lowest loan-deposit ratio at 44 percent in 2015; non-interest income respectable at 1.3 percent of assets, cost-income ratio not bad at 50 percent.
Further, it states NPLs mostly flushed out with aggregate being 11.3 percent for the largest five banks and loan loss coverage healthy at 86 percent; credit costs peaked at 2.3 percent of loans in 2009 and have since fallen to 70 basis point in 2015. Capital ratio is quite comfortable at 12.6 percent (average) for the five banks, it said.
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