The Public Sector Banks (PSBs) holds about 70% of Indian banking industry and its profitability has been shrinking from last few years. The paper intends to provide the insights on the impacts of PSBs mergers on the Indian economy amid global coronavirus outbreak.
The worldwide economic slowdown due to Covid-19 crisis hasn’t left the Indian economy untouched with India’s GDP fall to lowest 5% in the last six years. With Indian economy at stake, the mergers of major public sector banks (PSBs) in India on 1st April, 2020 has set alarm bells ringing for the Indian government. The Punjab National Bank has been merged with Oriental Bank of Commerce and United Bank of India; Indian Bank with Allahabad Bank; Union Bank of India with Andhra Bank and Corporation Bank; while Canara Bank has amalgamated with Syndicate Bank. It has reduced total PSBs from 27 (in 2017) to 12 only. The Indian government is the majority shareholder in the PSBs so it becomes its responsibility to resuscitate the weak PSBs through infusion of capital in times of need to financially strengthen the PSBs.
Rationale Behind The Mergers
The financially-stricken PSBs in India have shown lessened credit-creation growth with waning lending capabilities in recent years. The huge pile of Non-Performing Assets (NPAs) and low asset qualities have hit badly their capital ratios with increased provisions for NPAs due to high risk weighted bad loans eroding their profitability. Rising bad debts has shrieked their exposure to big corporate lending like real-estate, steel and infrastructure with limited access to capital market.
The capital adequacy ratio is the ratio between bank’s capital and risk weighted assets and requires huge capital to meet it. The capital requirements under Basel III norms by Reserve Bank in India require minimum capital adequacy ratio to be 8% for banks to eliminate default risks. Expanding credit need in the economy also requires more capital for PSBs for lending purposes.
The Reserve Bank of India’s Prompt Corrective Action (PCA) plan for weaker PSBs to prevent default risks has constrained their lending capacities and requires more growth capital for them. The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code,2016 also forces public sector banks in India to accept default payments lesser than the lending amounts. All these causes have forced the government to resort to mergers as the only viable option.
Government’s Vision Regarding PSBs Mergers
The Indian government is aiming to achieve USD five trillion economy in the coming years and considers amalgamation of PSBs as favorable move. It has proposed the mergers with the idea to improve operational efficiency of PSBs as the mergers will provide regulatory as well as growth capital.The mergers has been projected to create banks with stronger national presence and international reach. It will also improve their abilities to raise market resources with next generation banking technologies.
The move will help in reduction in lending cost and will help smaller and weaker banks to fulfill the Basel III capital requirements and will bring the merging weak PSBs out from the PCA framework. The Indian government has based its decision upon recommendations of Narasimham committee and PJ Nayak committee which suggested that India only requires few major banks than fragmented PSBs. The central bank, Reserve Bank of India has also proposed that the merger banks will become lenders of global scale through cutting edge technology and state of the art payment systems.
The Indian government is planning to increase the leverage ratio of public sector banks by augmenting their money creation powers. It aims to fulfill the objective to have multiplier effect on the Indian economy.It will result into manifold gains when loans by these banks will result into continuous cycle of consumption, production and income. But the repercussions of this move can’t be ignored and need proper assessment.
Impacts On The Indian Economy
The merging public sector banks in India exhibit varying financial strengths. The most profitable Indian bank among 10 PSBs with NPA of 3.2% has been merged with Allahabad bank with NPA of 5.2%. It will adversely affect the health of Indian bank’s profitability and efficiency. The share prices of Indian bank had also fallen down after the announcement of proposed mergers and the future efficacy of mergers is very plutonian in current economic conditions. By diluting the management of stronger banks, the forced mergers will be deteriorating for the whole banking industry in India.
The Indian government has claimed that no jobs of employees will be lost after the merger. Given this, it is very unlikely that efficiency of banks will improve by getting rid of redundant and underutilized labour as the government also fears severe strikes and protests by the bank unions’ employees. The claim is duping as closedown of many branches will result in retrenchment of many employees and will increase the cyclical unemployment rate in India.
PSBs mergers will not per se decrease the amount of their bad loans. It can improve only if banks improve their recovery processes or if loans are written off against balance sheets. Mergers do not address these significant structural problems as bad debts’ recovery process is slow due to inefficient judicial system in India and banks are unwilling to show them in balance sheets due to mounting losses.
The move also doesn’t deal with the problem of political interference in the management of PSBs – a major cause for increasing bad loans. The banks are forced to extend loans to big businesses without securing any payment guarantee.It will impede the goal of financial inclusion by the government to reach the unbanked poor. Minority shareholders will be more affected than dominant shareholders i.e. the government as it has also other revenue sources.
The credit growth has deteriorated drastically in India and post- mergers, the banks will face severe challenges related to staff integration, synchronizing accounting, bad loans’ recognition policies, rationalization of branches and culture compatibility. For instance, the Punjab National Bank (PNB) who is grappling with 16% NPA can’t be expected to revive the weaker Oriental Bank of Commerce and United bank in India,.
The government has initiated the idea that through recapitalization of PSBs through mergers, credit deployment would increase but the credit flow also depends upon economic environment and bankers’ propensity to take risk. So the increased financial health may be necessary but not the only sufficient step for reviving the credit crunch in the economy.
The government fiscal deficit gap is already increasing and recapitalization funds for mergers will further aggravate the problem. Instead of multiplier effect, the deficit will compel government to more borrowings and this will lead to crowding out of private investments. The Indian government debt will rise up and it would only be intergenerational transfer of funds without yielding optimistic results.
The sole criterion used for classifying banks into recent mergers was selecting banks operating on common banking technology solutions. This would ease integration but it can’t be the only rationale for merging banks. The infusion can temporarily solve the problem but will not address deep structural woes faced by the PSBs.
Through mergers, instead of the strong banks lifting the weak PSBs, the weak ones may sink the strong. Past mergers of weak banks with strong ones have not shown riveting results in India. The merger of Punjab National Bank with the New Bank in 1993 failed to create any significant cost synergies. The State Bank of India‘s merger with its associate banks also affected the SBI’s credit growth after the merger with depressed operating performance and reduced share prices. Last year, the strong Bank of Baroda was merged with the weaker Vijaya Bank and Dena Bank, but post-merger performance showed little improvements and its share prices has also collapsed from Rs 150 a year ago to Rs 92. The weaker banks also suffer as Dena bank’s share swap ratio was much lower than expected by their shareholders.
The government has based its whole justification upon the success of the State Bank of India (SBI)’s merger. But the same effect can’t be expected from recent mergers as the SBI merger was only internal reorganization exercise as associate banks enjoyed common identity with SBI for long and SBI also had operational control over them from inception. The banks were operating under the same information technology platform so the merger had more positive impacts. While SBI had more trained employees’ pool and larger capital resources, managing 2-3 banks would be nightmare for other current PSBs as economy is already facing recessionary problems.
In previous PSBs mergers, anchor banks had better asset qualities and strong capital stocks but major banks under recent amalgamation plan are themselves not in good health. Like, both gross bad loans and net bad loans for PNB and Union Bank of India are at over 15% and 7% of assets. So, further strain from weaker banks would prove detrimental for the major banks.
The PSBs in India have also previously shown lending bias to big corporate businesses and venturesome customers only. The mergers will add fuel to this problem rather than healing it out. It is more likely that consolidated bigger entities would use their pricing power to push for greater credit to big businesses than needy small customers. The Marginal Costs of Lending rate (MCLR) of merged bank is decided by the anchor banks only and the inclusion of weak banks in operations becomes minimal. The consolidation of banks may lead to the monopolistic pricing behavior of large banks and will left out the regional banks.
The current Indian economy requires instant remedy solution but the new mergers will have more long run impacts than near-term growth. The meaningful cost synergies from banks are unlikely in the short run as they would focus more on integration and restructuring of their banks rather than lending more funds.
This merger will be a short-term reprieve and only structural change will prevent public sector banks from sliding downhill again.
As PSBs are foundational for growth of Indian economy, the analysis of this government move becomes necessary. The researcher opines that based on previous merger repercussions and current state of Indian economy, the mergers will not be healing but detrimental to Indian banking industry. It is only short term relief measure intended to distract the attention of people from the slumping economy. For achieving expected merger benefits, the corporate governance through Banks Board Bureau needs to be emphasized. The government should develop more infrastructure development banks to relieve existing PSBs from infrastructural bad loans. The PCA framework also needs to be administered efficiently.
The Economy Against the Tide
The world evidently grappled with the effects of the Covid pandemic in 2020 and continues to wedge forward against the odds to survive and stay afloat. The major economies contracted as the global boards pinned records after records in economic depreciation, monetary devaluation and corporate deterioration. However, whilst the pandemic pushed the metaphorical brake over the developed and developing economies alike, and simultaneously nudged the least developed into desperation, China posted surprisingly positive growth figures as it bid adios to the yesteryear. While anything remotely lucrative seems like a farce nowadays and although the relatively booming Chinese economy seems superficial at the first glance, a detailed analysis dissects the tenets of the trade that have set the People’s Republic apart from the struggling world.
China stands as the figurative ‘Ground Zero’ of the Coronavirus pandemic; reporting the earliest emergence of the virus in the ultimate month of 2019. China later went on to have a gloomy start to the new year; struggling to deal with the strange occurrences, rising death toll and having no answer to the surging uncertainty. The new year celebrations were cancelled, holidays extended and even corporate giants like Toyota and Apple were resorted to immediate closure across the Mainland. The year expected to be of expansion turned polar as the world started to isolate the country to contain the virus; turning exports to the lowest levels over decades of preceding economic flourish.
However, while many global experts predicted the downfall of China; extrapolated by the dismal figures of the first few months of 2020, China quickly recovered and surpassed expectations in both containing the virus within the country and stabilising the tattering economy. The main contender and outright rival of China, however, faced the music in the most ironic way possible. Whilst the United States pillared on the trade war between the two since before the Covid pandemic, Mr. Trump left no stones unturned in maligning China for spreading the virus around the globe; deliberately and in an attempt to exponentiate its accession to power over US. The US economy faced the brunt of the pandemic rather expectantly since the time was wasted on hurling accusations instead of proactively adopting protective measures beforehand. While US is currently the worst affected country around the globe, its economy is no different than the mounding death toll on charts each day.
The US economy contracted on record levels and even itsworld-renowned indexes like DJI and S&P500 posted negative rallies; first since the Great Depression of 1929. Although the economic damage to the US has been cushioned, now twice, by heavily strategized monitory polices of the FED and colossal fiscal stimulus, the world superpower is showing signs of weakness as it deals with over 250,000 fresh cases each day yet can’t function to facilitate the 14 million and counting Americans facing unemployment for months and seeking benefits, taking the national bill to unprecedented heights.
Even compared to the regional counterparts, China stands out in much more than just the economic stability. Europe currently deals with a detrimental surge of the virus-variants while simultaneously accommodating the challenging deals across the borders in the wake of Brexit. The United Kingdom faces contradictions over new trade policies and procedures; not just with EU but with its very own states like Northern Ireland. The monetary rates now touch zero with a possibility of further plunge into the negative territory as London shivers with fatal blows of the highly infectious variant of Covid and the nation facing the second country-wide lockdown as hospitals run at full capacity.
Meanwhile, EU falters with the economic fiasco even under the improving financial conditions and finally grabbing an agreement on the year-in-year-out negotiations of the Silk Road Initiative. The distinction, however, is clear as while Germany, Europe’s most powerful economy, wrestles with a catastrophic recession, China completely avoided recession throughout the year 2020. While Germany looms into negative growth rates, China posted a steep 6.5% growth in the last quarter (Oct-Dec); a cumulative growth of 2.3% in 2020. A stark opposite of the slump caused by Covid restrictions that initially pulled China’s economy down by 6.8% in the first quarter compared to 2019.
While China has been gauged as “The only major economy to quickly recover from the pandemic and find the normal course of business operation”, the recovery has been uneven over multiple sectors of the domestic industry. The boom in the economy has been celebrated and attributed to the growing optimism of Chinese investors in the relentless recovery of the economy. The Shanghai stock market was recently pulled up by 1% even under the rippling conditions of the global economy. However, while the consumer electronics sector has enjoyed the waves pushed by the ‘stay at home’ mottos under the lockdown, service businesses like hotels and restaurants have faced a crunch which has eventually carried forward to the blue-collar workers in China. While the factories in the Mainland have turned into an overdrive to fill in the boom of exports since many countries face a manufacturing break, the exporters to the poor countries are dealing with the devastation alike to their clients. While magnates like Jack Ma have made a fortune, the recent graduates are struggling to find new jobs.
Now, with the resurgence of the virus, the fear in lacing the country again. The recent tally has jumped up to 769 new cases whilst reporting first death in over six months. However, the health officials have deemed the sporadic spread as ‘very, very small’. Ultimately, China came about to be a tough nut to crack, analytically due to its effective centralised strategies in dealing with the pandemic followed by aggressive policy making; focusing on the advanced manufacturing industries to stay proximate to core competencies whilst simultaneously maintaining a free market structure in other areas of the economy, setting a path for a predicted average 5.7% growth until 2025. Thus, paving China’s way to attain the coveted title of ‘World Superpower’ and surpassing US by 2028.
Indian Farmers Protest Against the Parliament’s Encroaching Bills
The new agricultural reforms in India aim to permit farmers to offer their produce to private purchasers beyond a state-run discount or wholesale markets, where farmers are guaranteed a minimum cost for their yields.
However, the farmers state that the laws would undermine their livelihoods and will solely be profitable to large companies, leaving producers helpless under the heel of a free market. Such patters can be gauged from the Modi government’s corporation-oriented policies. For instance, the current corporate tax rate – 30 percent – has been considerably reduced: 22 percent for existing companies and 15 percent for those established after 1st October, 2019.
Farmers regard these bills with suspicion, for they feel threatened by the corporatization of their agricultural domain and the dismissal of the MSP regime. Introduced in 1966-67, the MSP regime promises the sale of specific crops at a fixed price thus assuring the farmers of a regular income in spite of escalating input costs and unstable prices.
Primary leaders of farmers’ associations have called for protests, even willing to observe fasts during the protest in order to challenge the new farmer laws. With almost 250 million protesters, to protest is being called the largest protest in human history.
This is the second time in the previous two weeks that the farmers have called for country-wide protests, requesting all the people to organize sit-ins outside the district organizations across the state. The protests are being led by a large number of farmers sitting outside the capital, New Delhi, obstructing main highways heading towards the city.
Chief Minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, and his party ‘Aam Aadmi Party’ have supported the sit-ins by fasting with them. Kejriwal encouraged his party workers and members to join the campaign and asked Modi’s Bharatiya Janta Party to set aside arrogance and fulfill the demands of the farmers.
The agriculture sector contributes almost fifteen percent to India’s $2.9 trillion economy and enrolls the greater part of the nation’s 1.4 billion individuals. In recent years, this sector has been facing setbacks and driving a huge number of indebted farmers to take their lives.
Modi said the enactment was required to support the agricultural sector, and that the new laws would profit the farmers and “free” them from the oppression of middlemen. Farmers, generally from Haryana and Punjab and considered the “grain bowl” of India, have denounced the laws as “hostile to farmers”.
The farmers have demanded revocation of the new laws and assurance of the Minimum Support Price for their yields.“It’s been months now since the farmers began protesting. We have sent a few written messages to the Prime Minister, Agricultural Minister is demonstrating our hatred to the hostile laws but the BJP government is careless on this issue,” said the farmers’ leader.
One elderly woman, aged 75, said that “unless and until Narendra Modi withdraws these laws, we will not go back. This government should know about the strength and determination of the Punjabi people.”
The Indian Supreme Court has received many petitions regarding a ban on the protest, but the top court has declined such calls and ordered the government and unions to form a committee in which the experts would mediate between the concerned parties.
On the birth anniversary of Sikh leader, Guru Nanak, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a Zoom meeting that Canada would always defend the right of peaceful protest.
Federal Minister Fawad Chaudhry termed Indian behavior with farmers as “shameful”. He stated that the Indian government’s policies were the biggest threat to regional peace. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called on the Indian government to allow protests, asserting the right to raise a voice and show opposition to the government.
The vociferous calls have certainly proven to be a feather in the farmers’ cap, as India’s Supreme Court has recently ordered for the suspension of these farming bills.
U.S. Trade Deficits Increase from Covid
America’s trade deficit (excess of imports minus exports) reached its minimum in February 2020, and since then has increased 84% from February’s -3708, up to November’s -6812. America has one of the world’s highest rates of coronavirus-19, or Covid-19, infection, and therefore is less productive and more needy than most countries are, during the coronavirus crisis, and is consequently importing more and producing less. The reverse has generally been the case for the countries that have had good policy-responses to the virus — those countries’ economies have either been virtually unharmed by, or else have actually boomed from, this pandemic.
China’s mere month-long trade deficit from coronavirus was an enormous -62.05 in February, but by March China popped back up to+19.93 and has remained above +36 since that time, and it reached its high of +75.43 in November. China has one of the world’s lowest rates of coronavirus-19 infection, and is therefore exporting more as it fulfills the needs of countries (such as America) that are producing less because of the coronavirus crisis.
A major study by Jungle Scout, “Global Imports Report 2020”, says that:
Those countries that were able to recover from the impact of early 2020 economic events are the countries faring better later in 2020. For example, China had the most drastic year-over-year reduction in U.S. imports among the top 20 countries in February and March, second only to Hong Kong. But in April, China bounced back significantly, achieving approximately 40% year-over-year growth in U.S. imports. The countries that were able to recover early are the countries faring better later in 2020.
On December 17th, Matthew C. Klein at Barrons headlined “China’s Pandemic Recovery Accelerates While the U.S. Economy Rolls Over” and he reported that, “Soaring consumer spending, rapid manufacturing growth, and robust exports are pushing up the speed of China’s recovery from the pandemic even as the third wave of the viral outbreak and the withdrawal of federal government income support are causing the U.S. economy to turn over.”
One of the very few countries that were hit about as little as China by this pandemic is Vietnam, whose northern border is China. Vietnam has perhaps the world’s most vigorous and well-planned policies to restrain this virus. The country’s only two months of trade deficit were during April, at -12.20, and popped back up to +12.33 in May, then peaked at +49.86 in August, and declined sharply down to +6.00 in November, and then down to -10.00 in December. Although Vietnam’s worst month of the infection was August, after which the numbers of new daily cases returned quickly to the extraordinarily low numbers of the preceding months, Vietnam was hit hard by retaliation (such as complaints and investigations) from the U.S. regime in October, which caused an especially hard drop from 29.39 in October down to November’s +6.00, and then December’s -10.00. China wasn’t hit so hard by the U.S., mainly because Trump had already turned the screws against them earlier, and China had thus already reoriented its exports toward other countries. Yet, still, China has, steadily, each year, during the past five years, produced almost exactly 40% of all imports by the U.S. The impact of America’s policies against China has been much bigger in boosting America’s imports from China’s competitors than it has been in reducing America’s imports from China. America has been increasing its imports mainly from Vietnam, Germany, and Taiwan. So, those have been the chief beneficiaries of Trump’s anti-Chinese policies.
Another of the very few countries that have been hit by this coronavirus even less hard than China has been is Taiwan, which is almost unique in its enjoying a positive balance of trade throughout the year, and so Taiwan has produced record-breaking trade surpluses ever since May. This is largely because Taiwan is selling more to all of the desperate countries, such as the United States (which regime is especially happy to increase its purchases from Taiwan so as to decrease its purchases from China and from Vietnam). Taiwan is perhaps the world’s top gainer as a consequence of this pandemic.
Unlike China, Vietnam, and Taiwan, Germany has been somewhat poor in its coronavirus policies, and has 24,493 cases per million inhabitants, versus 16 in Vietnam, 36 in Taiwan, and 61 in China. America, by comparison, has 73,795. So, whereas America is over 3 times worse than Germany, it’s 4,612 times worse than Vietnam, 2,950 times worse than Taiwan, and 1,210 times worse than China. Germany is benefitting not because its coronavirus policies have been good but because the American regime wants to crush China and for some products this means buying from Germany instead.
The people who were saying that the aggressive types of measures that countries such as China, Vietnam, and Taiwan, were imposing against this virus would hurt instead of help those nations’ economies were not only wrong but they had their understanding exactly upside-down. They were exactly and precisely and extremely wrong. And if the United States (and perhaps some of its allies) had not been retaliating against the countries (other than Taiwan) that are the most successful against this virus, then the countries that have been doing an outstanding job of protecting their populations from this virus would be economically benefitting even more than they have been economically benefitting from their success against this virus. The result for the well-performing countries is not only lower rates of disease and lower rates of deaths, but higher rates of economic production and GDP.
Coronavirus has thus been redirecting global leadership away from the United States. One might anticipate that America will respond by relying increasingly upon its military in order to impose its will — no longer as any sort of role-model to inspire its ‘allies’. For example, on Christmas Day, December 25th of 2020, at the very same time that the nation’s austerity hawks were blocking passage of a covid-19 relief bill in the U.S. Congress, and millions of Americans were terrified at the resulting prospects of soon becoming made homeless, CNN headlined “US Army prototype cannon blasts target from 43 miles away”, and presented video of a successful test of a tank’s cannon firing a small guided missile against a military vehicle that was located 43 miles away, which video CNN accompanied with martial music in celebration of the huge explosion and fireball-annihilation of that targeted vehicle. America would then be selling its threats more, and its benefits less, and CNN was already a liberal cheerleader for this change to a more ‘assertive’ style of propaganda. But if this is liberal propaganda, then what is conservative propaganda; or: How will CNN now distinguish itself from, say, Fox?
Trump’s replacement, Biden, has appointed, to his Administration’s international affairs posts, individuals who are just as intensely neoconservative (or “hawkish” or “war-loving”) as Trump did; and, therefore, the incentive for America’s trading-partners to become less economically dependent upon America is likely to decrease little, if at all, and America’s balance-of-trade numbers will probably improve little, if at all, during his Presidency. America seems set on being an aggressive declining power, economically, no matter how much it will be spending militarily in order to prop-up its power. America’s billionaires have been thriving while America has been spending around half of the entire world’s military expenditures, and, so, this type of U.S. Government is unlikely to change in the near future.
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