Ajit Gulabchand: The man who built Bandra-Worli sea-link needs lessons in basic economics

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Ajit Gulabchand, the chairman and managing director of Hindustan Construction Company (HCC) said  in an interview yesterday: “a 50 basis points (bps) rate cut is welcome, but it is insufficient. …I expected at least 300 bps but if not that, 200 bps as an initial cut to create the impact that is necessary.” Among other things, Gulabchand is famous for having built the Bandra-Worli sea-link in Mumbai.

Gulabchand was reacting to the Reserve Bank of India’s decision to cut the repo rate by 50 basis points (one basis point is one hundredth of a percentage) to 6.75%. Repo rate is the rate at which the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) lends to banks and acts as a sort of a benchmark to the interest rates that banks pay for their deposits and in turn charge on their loans.

While industrialists are used to being unreasonable, this is among the most irresponsible statements I have come across from an industrialist, in a while. Allow me to explain.

Central banks do not take extreme steps unless it’s an emergency. When was the last time you heard a big central bank dropping rates by 300 basis points at one go? Or even 200 basis points? Or even 100 basis points for that matter?

So, central banks work in a step by step process and not in a random manner. The question is why is Gulabchand sounding so desperate? The answer can be found out from his profit and loss account statement.

The operating profit (or earnings before interest taxes depreciation and amortisation) of HCC excluding its other income, for the period of April to June 2015 stood at Rs 161.8 crore. The total amount of interest that the company paid on its debt during the same period was at Rs 167 crore.

Hence, the interest coverage ratio of the company is less than one. The interest coverage ratio is calculated by dividing the interest on debt that a company pays during a period by its operating profit. An interest coverage ratio of less than one essentially shows that the company is not making enough money to be able to pay the interest on its debt. And that is not a good situation to be in.

What this basically means is that HCC has taken on more debt than it should have. In this scenario Gulabchand is desperate for the interest costs of the company to go down. The total debt of the company as on March 31, 2015, stood at Rs 5,011 crore. On this the company paid an interest of Rs 651.1 crore during the course of April 2014 to March 2015.

This means an effective interest rate of 13% (Rs 651 crore as a proportion of Rs 5,011 crore). If the interest rates fall by 300 basis points, HCC’s effective rate of interest will come down to 10%, assuming that the banks totally pass on the cut to the borrowers.

At 10%, the interest outflow for HCC would be Rs 501.1 crore (10% of Rs 5,011 crore). This is Rs 150 crore lower than the amount the company paid as interest during the period April 2014 to March 2015. And this is a huge amount given that the profit after tax of HCC during the period was Rs 81.6 crore.

So, it’s understandable why Gulabchand is desperate for significantly lower interest rates. The same logic holds true for a spate of other corporates who are deep in debt and are having a tough time servicing their debt. And given half a chance they talk about lower interest rates.

The question nonetheless is can India afford interest rates which are 300 basis points lower than they currently are. Let’s do a little thought experiment here.

The repo rate before the RBI cut it by 50 basis points was at 7.25%. Let’s say instead of cutting the repo rate by 50 basis points, the RBI had cut it by 300 basis points, as Gulabchand wanted it to. Let’s further assume that banks passed on this cut (I know I am being unreasonable here, but just humour me for a moment). They cut deposit interest rates by 300 basis points and they cut lending rates by 300 basis points as well.

What would happen here? Given that the repo rate would fall to 4.25%, we would have a situation where deposit rates would suddenly fall around 5%. So far so good.

In the monetary policy statement released yesterday the RBI expects consumer price inflation is to reach 5.8% in January 2016. So we will have a scenario where interest on fixed deposits are in the region of 5% and the inflation is at 5.8%. This will mean a negative real return on the fixed deposits, as the rate of inflation will be greater than the interest being offered on fixed deposits. And that will not be a good thing.

Take a look at the accompanying chart. The green line represents the consumer price inflation. The red line represents the average rate of interest at which the government borrows.

As can be seen from the chart, between 2007-08 and 2013-2014, the consumer price inflation was greater than the average interest rate at which the government borrowed. The rate of interest at which the government borrows is the benchmark for all other kinds of loans and deposits.

As can be seen from the chart, the government managed to borrow at a rate of interest lower than the rate of inflation between 2007-08 and 2013-14. And if the government could raise money at a rate of interest below the rate of inflation, banks couldn’t have been far behind.

Hence, the interest offered on fixed deposits by banks and other forms of fixed income investments was also lower than the rate of inflation. The inflation was consistently greater than 10% during the period, whereas the fixed deposit rates ranged between 8-10%.

And this had negative consequences, as household financial savings fell. Household financial savings is essentially a term used to refer to the money invested by individuals in fixed deposits, small savings scheme, mutual funds, shares, insurance etc. A major part of household financial savings in India is held in the form of bank fixed deposits and post office small savings schemes.

The household financial savings have fallen from 12% of the GDP in 2009-10 to 7.5% in 2014-15. The number was at 7% in 2012-2013. This happened because the rate of return on offer on fixed income investments (like fixed deposits, post office savings schemes and various government run provident funds) was lower than the rate of inflation.

This led to people moving their money into investments like gold and real estate, where they expected to earn more. It also led to a huge proliferation of Ponzi schemes in several parts of the country.

Hence, the money coming into fixed deposits and post office income schemes slowed down leading to a situation where household financial savings fell. This, in turn, led to high interest rates. As mentioned earlier the effective rate of interest that Gulabchand’s HCC paid on its debt during the period between April 2014 and March 2015, was 13%.

If the household financial savings are to be rebuilt, the rate of interest on offer to depositors has to be significantly greater than the rate of inflation. A major reason why household financial savings have risen between 2012-2013 and 2014-2015 has been because the rate of interest on fixed income investments has been higher than the rate of inflation.

In fact, the RBI governor Raghuram Rajan has often talked about a real rate of interest of 1.5-2% on fixed income investments (i.e. fixed deposit interest rates are higher than the rate of inflation by 1.5-2%). This is a very important factor that needs to be kept in mind by the RBI while deciding on interest rates.

The basic point is that the interest rates are not just about corporates and borrowing, they are also about savers. If people don’t save enough through fixed deposits and other fixed income investments, the rate of interest is going to go up.

And in order to ensure that people save enough and do not divert their money into other investments, it is important that the rate of interest on offer on fixed income investments continues to be significantly higher than the rate of inflation.

This also ensures that over the long term interest rates will remain at more reasonable levels. Meanwhile, if that means that the corporates are hurt, then so be it.

The column originally appeared on The Daily Reckoning on Oct 1, 2015

EMIs down by Rs 20 per lakh, we will all buy cars now

 

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The Nobel Prize winning physicist Albert Einstein once said: “It can scarcely be denied that the supreme goal of all theory is to make the irreducible basic elements as simple and as few as possible without having to surrender the adequate representation of a single datum of experience.”

This line is believed to be the source of another quote that often gets attributed to Einstein: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” Irrespective of whether Einstein said this or not, it remains a very powerful quote.

It is typically applicable in scenarios where we are trying to explain things to people. And in our zeal to explain things we end up making things much simpler than they actually are. Now take the case of the Reserve Bank of India’s decision to cut the repo rate by 50 basis points (one basis point is one hundredth of a percentage) to 6.75%, yesterday. Repo rate is the rate at which RBI lends to banks and acts as a sort of a benchmark to the interest rates that banks pay for their deposits and in turn charge on their loans.

This immediately led many analysts and experts who appear on television to conclude that EMIs will now fall and hence, people will borrow more and buy cars, bikes, homes, and so on. This simplistic sort of analysis you would have read by now in your daily newspaper as well.

Only if it was as simple as that.

The banks borrow deposits at a certain rate of interest. They lend these deposits as loans at a higher rate of interest. Hence, for banks to cut the interest rates at which they lend, they first need to cut interest rates at which they borrow.

Further, even if banks cut deposit rates, after a cut in the repo rate, they may not cut lending rates or they may not cut lending rates to the same extent as the deposit rates. As the RBI said in a statement released yesterday: “The median base lending rates of banks have fallen by only about 30 basis points despite extremely easy liquidity conditions. This is a fraction of the 75 basis points of the policy rate reduction during January-June, even after a passage of eight months since the first rate action by the Reserve Bank. Bank deposit rates have, however, been reduced significantly, suggesting that further transmission is possible.”

Before yesterday’s 50 basis points cut in the repo rate, the RBI had cut the repo rate by 75 basis points between January and June 2015. In response to this banks had cut their lending rates by around 30 basis points on an average. They had cut their deposit rates more.

Why was this the case? In some cases, banks were simply trying to make more money. In other cases, particularly in case of public sector banks, the banks also had to deal with a huge amount of bad loans that had been piling up. Basically banks had lent money to corporates, who were no longer returning it. In this scenario, in order to maintain their profit levels, banks decided to cut their deposit rates more than their lending rates.

Further, banks also need to compete with small savings schemes offered by India Post. Hence, they cannot cut interest rates on their deposits beyond a point, unless the interest rates offered on the small savings schemes are cut as well.

The larger point being the “transmission” as experts like to call it from a repo rate cut to falling interest rates on banks loans, is not so straightforward, as it is often made out to be.

In the press conference that happened soon after the RBI rate cut, the economic affairs secretary Shaktikanta Das said that the government would review the interest rate offered on small savings schemes like the Public Provident Fund (PPF) and post office deposits.

Soon after this, the State Bank of India cut its base rate by 40 basis points to 9.3%. The cut will be effective from October 5, 2015. Base rate is the minimum interest rate a bank charges its customers. This cut by the country’s largest bank is expected to force the big private sector banks to act as well and cut their base rates. Andhra Bank also cut its base rate by 25 basis points to 9.7%.

Hence, this time the transmission of lower interest rates after a repo rate cut is likely to be faster than in the past. Nevertheless, does that mean consumption will pick up because interest rates are now slightly lower?

Let’s do some basic maths to understand this. SBI currently offers a car loan at 10.05% to men, 35 basis points above its base rate of 9.7%. For women, the rate of interest charged is 10%.

A car loan of five years of Rs 5 lakh at 10.05% would mean paying an EMI of Rs 10,636 in order to repay the loan. With the base rate being cut by 40 basis points, a new car loan would be offered at an interest of 9.65%. This would mean an EMI of Rs 10,538 or around Rs 100 lower. Hence, for every Rs 1 lakh of loan, the EMI will come down by around Rs 20 (Rs 100 divided by 5).

So, does that mean people will now buy cars because the car loan EMI will be down Rs 20 per lakh? Does that also mean that people were earlier not buying cars because the car loan EMI was Rs 20 per lakh higher?

If the car industry is to be believed that seems to be the case. Rakesh Srivastava of Hyundai Motors told the news-agency PTI that the rate cut was a “festival gift” from the RBI. R S Kalsi of Maruti Suzuki said: “On the whole, it gives a good signal to customers. The market so far has been moving very slowly but with this (rate cut) sentiments will improve. It gives the much-needed boost to the market in the pre-festive season.”

In fact, Pawan Munjal of Hero Honda also joined the rate-cut kirtan and said: “It has come at an opportune time as it will help in raising customer sentiment during the festival season.”

Hero Honda as you would know is in the business of selling two-wheelers, motorcycles in particular. SBI currently charges 12.85% on its Superbike loan. The EMI on a Rs 50,000, three year loan, would work out to Rs 1681.1. With a 40 basis points cut, the new interest rate will be 12.45%. The EMI on this will be around Rs 1671.5, or around Rs 10 lower.

So people will go and buy bikes because the EMI is Rs 10 lower now? And they were not buying bikes earlier because the EMI was Rs 10 too high?

This sort of simplistic logic on part of corporates and analysis on part of the media, really beats me.

People will consume and buy things when they feel confident about their economic future. This will happen when they see job security and steady increments on the way. Steady increments will come when corporate profits start growing, which isn’t the case currently. Corporate profits will start growing when the corporates are able to clean up the excessive debt that they have on their balance sheets now, among other things. And all this is easier said than done.

At the end of the day, monetary policy can only do so much.

Postscript: I would also suggest that you read an excellent piece by Tanushree Banerjee, Co-Head of Research at Equitymaster, on yesterday’s rate cut. You can read the piece here

The column originally appeared on The Daily Reckoning on Sep 30, 2015

Ratings shopping: Lessons from the Amtek Auto default

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Amtek Auto was supposed to repay Rs 800 crore of its debt by Sunday (Sep 20, 2015). It has not been able to do so. Media reports suggest that the company has a total debt of Rs 18,000 crore, whereas the Amtek group has a debt of Rs 26,000 crore.

The interesting bit is that this debt that Amtek Auto has defaulted on will not be declared to be a bad loan immediately. As I have often written in the past in The Daily Reckoning, banks do not like to recognise bad loans immediately.

More often than not they kick the can down the road by restructuring the loan. When a loan is restructured a borrower is either allowed to repay the loan at a lower rate of interest or over a longer period of time or possibly both.

Deepak Shenoy makes this point on Capitalmind.in: “For a bank holding the bonds[on which Amtek Auto has defaulted on] this account is technically not an NPA [non-performing asset or a bad loan] until 90 days is over. So they can extend and pretend and hope that Amtek manages to salvage itself. Since the banking system has exposure to more than Rs 7,000 crore of loans to Amtek, you can bet your next salary that they will restructure the loan in some way and manage to not call it an NPA at all.”

And that is not the only disturbing bit. Amtek Auto is also a very clear case of rating agencies having been caught napping on their job. The agencies should have seen this default coming. But that did not turn out to be the case.

Care Ratings suspended the rating of the company on August 7, 2015. Before suspending the company Care had rated Amtek Auto at AA−. Care defines an AA rating as: “Instruments with this rating are considered to have high degree of safety regarding timely servicing of financial obligations. Such instruments carry very low credit risk.”  Over and above the rating, Care also uses plus or minus for a certain level of ratings. These signs “reflect the comparative standing within the category.”

From a rating of AA−, Care stopped rating Amtek Auto. Another rating agency Brickwork Ratings downgraded the debt of the company from a level of A+ to C−. This was a downgrade of 12 levels in a single shot.

Brickwork defines an A rating as: “Instruments with this rating are considered to have adequate degree of safety regarding timely servicing of financial obligations. Such instruments carry low credit risk.” It defines a C rating as: “Instruments with this rating are considered to have very high risk of default regarding timely servicing of financial obligations.”

It is worth asking here that how did a company go from being categorised as having an “adequate degree of safety” to a “very high risk of default,” all at once. The only possible explanation here is that the rating agency was caught napping or just chose to look the other way.

In fact, Amtek Auto is not an isolated case. There have been other such instances as well. As a recent news-report in the Mint newspaper points out: “In the past one year, there have been other instances where ratings have been cut sharply by three notches or more in one revision. In July, CARE Ratings downgraded Jaiprakash Associates Ltd by six notches from a rating of BB to D-, a rating that reflects a default in the debt security. Non-convertible debentures of Bhushan Steel Ltd also saw their rating drop by six notches following a revision by CARE Ratings in December 2014. Punj Lloyd Ltd faced a similar drop in ratings in July.”

Monet Ispat and Energy Ltd, Bhushan Power and Steel Ltd, Shree Renuka Sugars and 20 Microns Ltd, are examples of other companies that the Mint news-report points out.

There is a basic problem with the way rating agencies operate. The company which they are rating is the one which pays them as well. In this scenario one rating agency can be played against another, and a company can indulge in ratings shopping.

In fact, ratings shopping was a major reason behind the financial crisis. Banks and other financial institutions looking to rate their sub­prime bonds and other mortgage backed securities played off one rating agency against the other. If they did not get the AAA rating (which is the best rating on a financial security), they threatened to take their business elsewhere.

There was a huge ratings inflation that happened as well. As George Akerlof and Robert Shiller write in their new book Phishing for Phools—The Economics of Manipulation and Deception: “One ratings agency alone, Moody’s, gave 45,000 mortgage-related securities a triple-A rating(for the period 2000 to 2007); that generosity for the mortgage-backed securities contrasts with only six US companies that were similarly rated AAA(in 2010).”

This possibly explains that the rating agencies were giving high ratings to subprime and mortgaged backed securities in order to continue to get business from investment bank issuing subprime bonds and other mortgage backed securities.

As Akerlof and Shiller point out: “The originator of the packages [i.e. subprime bonds and the mortgage backed securities], typically an investment bank, was rewarded by high ratings on its offerings. And the ratings agency, in turn, would be shunned if it did not give the investment bank what it wanted. It was in the interest of neither the investment banks nor the ratings agencies to go back and do that extremely difficult—and perhaps impossible—task of opening up the packages and carefully examining their innards [the emphasis is mine].”

This is precisely what has happened in the Indian context as well. In their zeal to get business, the rating agencies awarded these companies higher ratings than what they deserved in the first place. If they hadn’t done that the companies would have taken their business elsewhere. Pretty soon shit hit the ceiling and they had to cut ratings by several notches all at once.

To conclude, it is worth repeating here, something that a managing director of Moody’s told his employees: “Why didn’t we envision that credit would tighten after being loose, and housing prices would fall after rising, after all most economic events are cyclical and bubbles inevitably burst. Combined, these errors make us look either incompetent at credit analysis, or like we sold our soul to the devil for revenue, or a little bit of both [the emphasis is mine].”

The Indian rating agencies did something similar as well.

The  column originally appeared on The Daily Reckoning on Sep 24, 2015

Corruption in bank lending starts at very beginning

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Anyone with any sense had already left town…” – Bob Dylan in Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts

In the Daily Reckoning newsletter dated September 9, 2015, I had extensively quoted a survey carried out by EY. In this survey 64% of respondents believed that the bad loans of banks resulted primarily because of lapses in the due-diligence carried out by the banks, before the loans were sanctioned.
As the report which came along with the survey pointed out: “Third party agencies such as surveyors, engineers, financial analysts, and other verification agencies, etc., play a critical role in assuring financial information, proposals, work completion status, application of funds, etc. Lenders rely significantly on the inputs issued by such third parties.”

And this system is being manipulated. “Reports are made as a routine, with little scrutiny. In some situations, the reports may be drafted under the influence of unscrupulous borrowers,” the EY report pointed out.

In response to the column someone with a detailed knowledge of the loan processing and disbursal process of banks got in touch with me. He gave me two examples of the loan disbursal system being manipulated. This ultimately led to several banks ending up with bad loans.

The first case was of an unlisted entity in the business of manufacturing luggage, borrowing from two big public sector banks. The promoter of the company offered his equity in the company, as well as land and the factory, as a collateral. This transaction took place in 2007. The valuation report by a third party agency put the combined value of all the assets at Rs 35 crore. Against these assets the banks gave a loan of around Rs 27 crore. The promoter took this loan. He also borrowed Rs 3 crore more from the banks.

Later another valuer was brought in to examine the value of the assets, and the value of the assets was put at a much lower Rs 19 crore. The old valuer was dismissed but by then the damage had already been done. The company had given out a loan of Rs 30 crore against assets which were worth only Rs 19 crore.

Ideally the situation should have exactly been the other way around.

The second case involves a listed company in the building materials space. The company came out with an initial public offering in 2008-2009. The company was listed at a three digit price. Currently, the price of the stock is in lower single digits.

The company took loans amounting to Rs 325 crore from two big public sector banks and one of the bigger new generation private sector banks. The promoter did not stop at this. He borrowed more using his other listed entities as well. In 2013, he defaulted on the loans citing slowdown in construction activity.

Now he owes banks around Rs 1000 crore to the banks. The book value of the assets that banks have as a collateral is around Rs 225 crore. The market value is expected to be in the region of Rs 325-350 crore. The rest of the money was lent by banks against shares, which are now quoting in single digits.

In both the cases, the banks ended up with losses. Both the companies that we talked about are not very big companies and they were able to do so much damage to banks so easily. Now imagine what must be happening when the banks deal with the bigger corporates.

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor, Raghuram Rajan, summarised the situation accurately in a speech last year when he said: “The promoter enjoys riskless capitalism – even in these times of very slow growth, how many large promoters have lost their homes or have had to curb their lifestyles despite offering personal guarantees to lenders?” Almost none.

In fact, these defaults have pushed Indian banks into a difficult situation. As R Gandhi, one of the deputy governors of the RBI, said in a speech he made on September 15: “The amount of non-performing assets [have] witnessed [a] spurt and as on March 2015, it was at 4.62. per cent of the gross advances of the banks in comparison with 2.36 per cent of the gross advances as at March 2011.”

Further, non-performing assets or bad loans have grown at a much faster pace than the overall lending in the last few years. Along with the growth in bad loans, as I have often pointed out in the past, the restructured assets (where the tenure of the loan or the interest on the loan has been changed in favour of the borrower) have also grown.

As Gandhi pointed out: “The ratio of restructured standard assets to gross advances grew to 6.44 per cent as at the end of March 2015 from 5.87 per cent of gross advances as on March 2014. The total stressed assets (i.e., NPAs plus Restructured Assets) as on March 2015 were 11.06 per cent of gross advances.”

All this has had a severe impact on profitability of banks. “The sharp increase in stressed assets has adversely impacted the profitability of the banks. The annual return on assets has come down from 1.09 per cent during 2010-11 to 0.78 per cent during 2014- 15,” Gandhi said.

This has become a drag on the economy. The increase in bad loans and restructured assets also hurts those borrowers who have been repaying their loans without fail, as they end up paying higher interest rates. As Rajan said last year: “One consequence of skewed and unfair sharing is to make credit costlier and less available. The promoter who misuses the system ensures that banks then charge a premium for business loans.” Hence, the next time the businessmen want the RBI to cut interest rates, they should understand they are a major part of the problem.

Other than the fact, that the banks lent more money than they should have [i.e. due-diligence wasn’t proper], they also did not monitor the loans properly. In cases where money had been lent against shares, the falling share price should have led to some action from banks. But that doesn’t seem to have happened.

The RBI has since asked banks to follow a proper credit-risk management system. As Gandhi said during the course of his speech: “The guidelines entail involvement of top Management, including the Board of Directors of the bank in actively managing the credit risk of the banks. Banks are required to put in place proactive credit risk management practices like annual / half-yearly industry studies and individual obligor reviews, credit audit which entails periodic credit calls that are documented, periodic visits of plant and business site, and at least quarterly management reviews of troubled exposures / weak credits.”

While this will help banks in not making the same mistakes as they have in the past, it will do nothing about the mess that they already are in. For loans that have gone bad already or are in the process of going bad, all these steps are essentially too little and too late.

The column originally appeared on the Daily Reckoning on Sep 18, 2015

How corporates have turned Indian banks lazy

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One of the data points that analysts like to refer to while talking about slow economic growth, is the slow growth in loans given out by banks. If we consider the one year period between July 25, 2014 and July 24, 2015, the overall lending by banks grew by 9.4%. In the period of one year between July 26, 2013 and July 25, 2014, the loan growth was much stronger at 12.8%.

In absolute terms, in the last one year, the banks gave out Rs 5,71,820 crore of loans. This is lower than the total amount of Rs 6,88,640 crore, that banks gave out between July 2013 and July 2014.

So banks are not lending as much as they were in the past. And that clearly is a problem. But this does not apply to the money that banks have lent to the government.

Between July 2014 and July 2015, the banks invested Rs 3,40,750 crore in government securities. The government issues financial securities to finance its fiscal deficit or the difference between what it earns and what it spends. Banks buy these financial securities and thus lend to the government.

Interestingly, the investment by banks in government securities during the period July 2013 and July 2014 had stood at Rs 1,298,50 crore. Hence, between July 2014 and July 2015, the investment by banks in government securities has jumped a whopping 162.4%.

In fact, the comparison gets even more interesting when we get deposits raised by banks between July 2014 and July 2015 into the picture. In the last one year banks raised Rs 9,34,090 crore as deposits. Of this 36.6% (or Rs 3,40,750 crore) found its way into government securities. Between July 2013 and July 2014, only 14.7% of deposits raised had been invested in government securities.

What do all these numbers tell us? They tell us loud and clear that the Indian banking system currently wants to play it safe. In other words this is “lazy” banking. Lending to the government is deemed to be the safest form of lending. This is primarily because government can borrow more money to repay the past borrowers. It can also print money and repay its loans. Private borrowers cannot do that.

What is also interesting is that banks are also giving out more home loans than they were in the past. Between July 2014 and July 2015, home loans formed around 17.6% of the total lending. This number between July 2013 and July 2014 had stood at 12.2%. This is primarily because a house is a very good collateral. Also, the rate of default on home loans is very low. In case of HDFC (which is not a bank but a housing finance company) the default rate is at 0.54%, which means that almost no one defaults on a home loan.

In case of State Bank of India, for retail loans, the default rate stands at 1.17%. The bank does not give out a separate default number for home loans. Auto loans, education loans and personal loans, are the other forms of retail loans. The default rates in case of these loans is likely to be higher. Hence, the default rate, in case of home loans given out by the State Bank of India, should be lower than 1.17%.

Compare this to what happens when the State Bank of India lends to mid-level corporates. The default rate is at a very high 10.3%. Hence, for every Rs 100 that India’s largest bank gives out as a loan to a mid-level corporate, more than Rs 10 goes bad.

If one factors all this into account it is not surprising that banks are comfortable lending only to the government and giving out home loans. In fact, over the last one year, banks have lent 47.3% of the total deposits they have raised during the period either to the government or as home loans. The number during the period July 2013 and July 2014 had stood at 24.3%.

Hence, banks are clearly trying to play it safe. This is lazy banking at its best.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his meeting with businessmen on September 8, 2015, asked them to increase their risk appetite and increase their investments. This is clearly not going to happen without banks being ready to lend to corporates.

The problem is that the last time banks went on an overdrive while lending to corporates they burnt their fingers badly, with corporates defaulting big time on their loans. And there is no easy way to solve this problem.

(Vivek Kaul is the author of the Easy Money trilogy. He tweets @kaul_vivek)

The column originally appeared on Firstpost on Sep 11, 2015