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Slow reforms drag bank-risk profiles

Update: September, 25/2013 - 08:32

Employees count money at a local bank. Fitch Ratings says the outlook for domestic banks is stable. — Photo stockbiz

HA NOI (VNS) — A new report by Fitch Ratings says that the major Vietnamese banks' risk profiles will remain vulnerable in view of the country's below-par economic performance, high asset-quality risks, poor transparency and slow pace of banking restructuring, alongside persistent global headwinds.

Stable macro-policies since early 2011 have led to lower volatility in interest rates, exchange rates and inflation. But sustaining a broadly steady backdrop raises the chances of a banking recovery. However, State-led reforms have been slow, in part because authorities probably fear exacerbating problems in a fragile economy.

Fitch forecasts Viet Nam's gross domestic product (GDP) growth to rise modestly to around 5 per cent in 2013 and 5.5 per cent in 2014-15 - low relative to the country's record over the past decade.

Not effective

Efforts to spur domestic demand have not been effective as banks and borrowers are wary of an uncertain operating environment. Reported loan growth was just 6 per for this year to August.

The agency expects any recovery in the banking system to be gradual, depending on the pace and effectiveness of reforms and regulatory discipline.

The Viet Nam Asset Management Company (VAMC) may not tackle many of the asset-quality issues in the near term because some aspects of its operations are still unclear and regulatory rules to improve asset-quality data transparency have been delayed until June 2014.

Banking consolidation and reform of State-owned enterprises are likely to progress slowly in the medium term.

Vague non-performing loan (NPL) transparency and tough economic conditions still pose impairment risks to major banks. VAMC can remove bad debt from banks, but not losses.

A "true" level of the NPL ratio, which Fitch estimates at 15 per cent relative to the officially-reported 3-4 per cent, and an 80 per cent loss rate, would cut core tier 1 capital adequacy ratio (CAR) of large lenders to about 1 per cent from the reported 10 per cent by June.

This, together with pressure on banks' asset quality and profit generation, underlines the need for fresh capital, which Fitch believes will be hard to acquire, especially for small and medium-sized banks.

Restrictive foreign ownership laws are deterring foreign investment, while there may not be much investor appetite locally because of the uncertain domestic economy.

Downside rating risks could arise if the operating environment becomes even more challenging and threatens banks' solvency, a loss in depositors' confidence occurs, and/or if there is a negative rating action on the country.

Fitch says the outlook is stable, however, as the banks' ratings is in the single ‘B' category in light of the Vietnamese sovereign's stable outlook. — VNS

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