January 24, 2018, 1:41 am
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Think tank says PH banking sector remains positive

BMI Research, a member of the Fitch Group of Companies, said the growth outlook for the Philippine banking sector remains positive, and there are few risks to financial stability over the medium term. 

In a report, BMI said some of the key factors supporting their constructive view include a strong economic growth outlook, healthy capitalization and liquidity profiles, and ongoing positive structural reforms.

“The Philippine economy expanded by an impressive rate of 6.8 percent in 2016 with a boost from the one-off election spending, and although we forecast real GDP growth to taper off slightly to 6.3 percent in 2017, it will nevertheless remain one of the fastest growing economies in the region,” BMI said.

This outperformance, according to the think tank, will be underpinned by an improved business environment, positive demographics, and the government expansionary fiscal plans, which will continue to drive investment and output growth. 

“President Rodrigo Duterte’s efforts to improve bilateral relations with China and Japan will also help to boost trade and investment with the two economic powerhouses in the region, further reinforcing our positive view on the economy. This should help to drive credit demand as both households and businesses assume leverage against a backdrop of profitable opportunities and relatively low existing indebtedness,” BMI said.

BMI forecast loan growth to come in at 17.0 percent in 2017, which is similar to their estimate of 18.0 percent in 2016.

BMI also expects asset quality across the Philippine banking sector “to remain broadly stable and low as corporate earnings and asset valuations typically correlate positively with strong economic growth.”

“In other words, we see limited scope for further improvements, but do not expect deterioration,” BMI said.

BMI noted increasing loan exposure to consumers and small-medium enterprises (SME) - as banks deepen their penetration and search for engine of growth - may result in non-performing loan (NPL) ratio rising gradually. 

On the other hand, BMI said as the mid-tier banks continue to develop their risk-management tools and as banks resolve their existing problem assets with the support of higher asset prices, this will help to bring down NPLs on their balance sheets. 

Since January 2013, gross NPLs have been on a broad downtrend, falling from 3.5 percent, to 2.0 percent in February 2017.

BMI also noted one of the key strengths of the banking sector is that it boasts high capital buffers which should provide sufficient defense against moderate credit shocks and unexpected losses. 

“The capital-to-asset ratio was recorded at 12.1 percent as of February 2017, while the latest available data for capital adequacy ratio on a solo basis (which excludes subsidiaries) stood at 15.6 percent in September 2016. We expect the industry to maintain healthy buffers amid active supervision by the central bank and given that many of leading banks have the ability to raise fresh capital due to strong financial backing from large conglomerates,” BMI said.

BMI added the banking sector’s loan-to-deposit ratio is among the lowest in Asia, suggesting that Philippine banks have financed loans largely by using deposits rather than through international wholesale funding. 

“This reduces refinancing risk in the banking system as external borrowing tends to be difficult to roll over in times of uncertainty. It also lowers asset-liability mismatch risk arising from monetary tightening in the US, and currency movements,” the report cited.

Although the banking sector as a whole is on a sound footing, BMI noted that it has a long tail with over 600 banks as of end-2016, of which the largest 10 banks account for over 70 percent of total assets. 

“The high degree of fragmentation also comes with uneven risk distribution where performance indicators are skewed towards dominant banks in the industry. That said, the government has been encouraging consolidation in the industry, which we believe will help to reduce the regulatory burden on the central bank and improve financial intermediation processes in the country,” BMI said.

The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas has signed a finalized agreement with its Malaysian counterpart in early April regarding the entry of qualified Asean banks, in line with the Asean Banking Integration Framework (ABIF), and a Letter of Intent with the Bank of Thailand to begin similar discussions. 

“The entry of well-managed foreign banks will likely provide further impetus for consolidation as domestic banks gear up for more competition from abroad, and could potentially enable knowledge transfers from overseas which would improve risk management,” BMI said.
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