Why SBI is Launching a Home Loan that Caused the Financial Crisis




In August 2015, Arundhati Bhattacharya the Chairman of the State Bank of India (SBI), had suggested that the country’s largest bank be allowed to launch teaser rate home loans. As she had said back then:In fact, the first suggestion that I made (was) that, for a limited period, home loans could be given at below base rate for the already heavy stock of housing.” Base rate is the minimum interest rate a bank charges to its customers.

The bank had first launched teaser rate home loans in 2009. These loans are essentially home loans in which the interest rate is fixed in the initial years and is lower than the normal floating interest rate on a home loan. The lower interest rate is limited only to the first two-three years, after which the loan is priced at the prevailing interest rate on the home loans. Hence, the EMIs for the borrower during the first few years are lower than they would have been in the normal scheme of things.

Yesterday (i.e. February 1, 2016), SBI went a step further, and launched a home loan in which the monthly payments initially will be even lower than the EMIs paid in case of teaser rate home loans. It launched what it calls the SBI FlexiPay Home Loan.

As the press release of the announcement of this home loan points out: “The new offering, ‘SBI FlexiPay Home Loan’will enable young working professionals / executives to get higher loan amount compared to their loan eligibility under normal Home Loan schemes. The additional loan amount will help such professionals in acquiring better and spacious living spaces for themselves and their families, taking into account their future needs.”

Hence, anyone applying for a FlexiPay Home Loan will get a higher amount of home loan than his or her loan eligibility would permit under normal circumstances. And there is more to this as well. As the SBI press release points out: “Further, to lower the impact of such additional loan amount on monthly repayments in the form of EMIs, the customers availing Home Loan under ‘SBI FlexiPay Home Loan Scheme’ will also be offered the option of paying only interest during the moratorium (pre-EMI) period of 3 to 5 years, and thereafter, pay moderated EMIs. The EMIs will be stepped-up during the subsequent years.”

So, other than getting a higher loan amount, the loan also comes with the option of the borrower only paying the interest on the loan during the first few years. And this makes things very interesting.

As the SBI press release points out: “Soaring aspiration levels and rising awareness about the impact of quality living spaces on healthy and harmonious living are resulting in our newer generation of working professionals to show greater preference for better and larger homes. But they are constrained from purchasing their dream homes due to the relatively lower income available at early stage of their career.”

Hence, the FlexiPay home loan will essentially allow people buy a home which they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to afford given their current level of income. As SBI puts it, the loan tries to “to bridge the gap between affordability and demand for quality residential spaces in the country”.

There are multiple questions that arise here. Let me try and answer them one by one.

a) Why is SBI doing this? The answer lies in the numbers. The bank like other public sector banks has significantly lower bad loans when it lends to retail consumers than when it lends to corporates. As on September 30, 2015, the bad loans when it came to lending to retail sector (i.e. home loans, auto loans, personal loans etc.) were at 1.03% of the total lending carried out to the sector. This number had been at 1.37% as on September 30, 2014.

In comparison, the bad loans while lending to mid-level corporates were at 10.62%. Bad loans while lending to small and medium enterprises were at 8.72%. Also, while the overall bad loan rate in case of retail loans is 1.03%, it is safe to say that the bad loans rate while giving out home loans would be lower.

One explanation for this lies in the fact that it is easy to unleash legal proceedings (or the threat of) against retail borrowers and get them to pay up than it is to do against corporates. Hence, it makes sense for the bank to give out home loans in comparison to other loans, where recovery is difficult.

In fact, between September 2014 and September 2015, 25% of all domestic lending carried out by the bank was in the form of home loans.

b) Should SBI be doing this? It is clear that SBI wants to give out more home loans. The trouble with the FlexiPay home loan is that it relaxes the lending standards while giving out a home loan. As the press release points out that the loan will help the borrower “to get higher loan amount compared to their loan eligibility under normal Home Loan scheme”.

While this will allow the bank to lend more, relaxing lending standards in order to lend more is not always the best way to expand the loan book. As the SBI press release further says the loan will help “to bridge the gap between affordability and demand for quality residential spaces in the country”.

The function of any bank is to give loans and to give them out to those people and institutions who are likely to return it. It is not the function of a bank to improve the real estate scenario in a country by lowering its lending standards.

Further, in the interest only version of the loan the EMI is likely to jump up once the principal repayment (through the EMI) also kicks in after a period of three to five years. In fact, even after three to five years, when EMIs kick-in, the borrowers will have to “pay moderated EMIs”.

The bank is essentially working with the assumption that the income of the borrower will go up during the period and he will be in a position to pay the higher EMI. But is that likely to be the case?

Let’s try and understand this through an example. The scheme allows for upto 1.2 times higher loan eligibility compared to the loan eligibility under the normal home loan scheme. The loan amount has to be Rs 20 lakh or higher. What this means is that anyone with a loan eligibility of Rs 50 lakh under normal conditions, can take a loan of upto Rs 60 lakh.

Over and above this he can choose only to pay interest on it for the first five years. The current rate of interest on an SBI home loan is 9.55% (9.5% for women). Hence, the monthly payment for the first five years will come to Rs 47,750 (9.55% of Rs 60 lakh divided by 12).

The question is if the borrower chooses to pay this amount as an EMI what loan amount will he be eligible for? SBI offers a tenure of up to 30 years on its home loans. At an interest of 9.55% and a tenure of 30 years, an EMI of Rs 47,750, is good enough to repay a loan of Rs 56.55 lakh, which isn’t very different from Rs 60 lakh. (The EMI for a Rs 56.55 lakh home loan to be repaid over 30 years and at an interest of 9.55% comes to Rs 47,757).

The trouble is the eligibility of the borrower under the normal home loan is only Rs 50 lakh and he won’t get a loan of Rs 56.55 lakh. By structuring the loan the way it has, SBI gets to collect interest longer than it actually would have.

What happens once the EMI kicks in after five years? The bank talks about moderated EMIs. It does not define what it means by it. Assuming that principal repayment starts after five years, the EMI will jump to around Rs 52,630.5. This means that the borrower will repay the home loan over the next 25 years, making the total tenure of the loan repayment 30 years. The scheme allows for repayment period of 25 to 30 years.

If the repayment is made over the next 20 years, meaning a tenure of 25 years, the EMI jumps to Rs 56,124. The EMI does not increase significantly in comparison to the earlier monthly payment. The reason for this lies in the fact that SBI has limited the loan eligibility under this scheme to just 20% more than the normal home loan scheme. Hence, to that extent SBI is not making a very risky loan, even though it is taking on some more risk than it currently is.

Also, it is important to understand here that once SBI launches a product, other banks and housing finance companies will have follow. If they stick to 1.2 times the normal loan amount, they will not be giving out very risky loans. If they get aggressive and up the ante, that will mean the lowering of home loan lending standards throughout the system. Hence, the RBI will have to keep a watch on this.

c) What can we learn from the American experience? Interest only home loans were a big reason behind the home loan bubble in the United States between 2000 and 2007. In the American context they were referred to as the option adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM). An option ARM was a 30-year home loan in which the borrower had the option of paying a lower EMI initially. One version of the product was called 5/1 interest-only option ARM.
In this, the interest rate was reset after the first five years and then every year after that. Also, for the first five years, the bor­rower needed to pay back only interest on the home loan. In the American case, the interest rate in case of an interest only home loan was significantly lower than the normal home loan.

Hence, this product allowed borrowers to buy homes which were significantly more expensive than they could afford. In the Indian case, the interest on the interest only home loan is the same as the normal home loan.

Also, in the United States, after a point there was a race among banks and financial institutions to give out these loans. As more such loans were given, home prices went up, leading to a huge real estate bubble.

Once the higher EMIs started kicking in, the borrowers started defaulting on their loans. This eventually led to the start of the financial crisis that the world is currently battling. Given this, the lessons from the American experience are very clear. Interest only home loans are pretty risky if the interest rate differential between a normal home loan and an interest only home loan is high. That is clearly not the case with the new SBI FlexiPay home loan and this brings us back to the original question.

d) Why is the SBI doing this? From what the RBI governor Raghuram Rajan has been saying, it doesn’t seem that this home loan scheme would have had a total buy-in from him. Given this, I think SBI may have been nudged to launch this scheme by the finance ministry, in order to get the real estate sector going in this country. Given that I have no evidence for this, to that extent this remains a conspiracy theory.

Nevertheless, if this scheme and other such schemes launched by other banks and housing finance companies gain some traction, they will prolong the real estate bubble in the country even more. Hence, instead of reviving real estate, it will make purchasing a home even more difficult. At the same time, I don’t think SBI is taking on an undue risk by launching this scheme. But it remains to be seen how other banks enter this space. If they lower lending standards by increasing the loan eligibility further, we may have a problem.

The column originally appeared on the Vivek Kaul Diary on February 2, 2016

RBI needs to answer some questions on home loans

One of the things that young journalists (or even old ones) are taught when they first join a newspaper is to think of a headline first, before they start writing.

The logic for this is pretty straightforward. Newspapers have limited space and pieces written using this concept tend to be more structured and readable.

Given their limited space, newspapers do not have space for rambling (or at least they should not). So all news-reports as well as analysis ideally needs to be definitive, where there is no scope for being all over the place.

The trouble with this approach is that while it helps come up with structured reports as well as analysis, it leaves very little scope for rambling and stuff that is not so definitive.

I know I have been rambling up until now, but just humour me a little more and I might come to the point sometime later in this column.

And actually that’s the beauty of writing on the web. There are no space constraints. This allows writers like me to ramble once in a while and come up with stuff that is not so structured and not so definitive.

This helps, given that life as well as the economy are largely unstructured, not so definitive and a little all over the place. And this is one such column.

Every month, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) declares the sectoral deployment of credit data. This provides details of the different kind of lending carried out by banks. One of the data points that the RBI shares is the total amount of home loans given by banks.

The latest data was released on October 30, 2015. As per this data, between September 19, 2014 and September 18, 2015, banks gave out home loans worth Rs 1,04,135 crore. This forms 21.6% of the total lending carried out by banks.

How was the situation a year earlier? Between September 20, 2013 and September 19, 2014, banks had given out home loans worth Rs 75,058 crore. This formed around 16.5% of the overall lending by banks.

So what does this tell us? Between September 2014 and September 2015, the banks gave out a greater amount of home loans both in absolute as well as proportionate terms, in comparison to the period between September 2013 and September 2014.

So far so good.

Now compare this to the news that you keep hearing about real estate companies sitting on huge number of unsold homes. If that is the case then how are home loans being given by banks going up?
What this perhaps means is that people are no longer buying under-construction properties (which make up for a significant part of unsold homes of real estate companies) and that is why the number of unsold homes has not been falling.

Instead people are buying completed homes. These are homes which were completed in the past. Investors who had bought these properties are now perhaps exiting. I am not sure about this, but that is the best possible explanation that I can come up with and it’s clearly not definitive.

Why are people buying fully completed homes? For the simple reason that too many under-construction homes over the last few years have continued to be under-construction. A recent report brought out by the business lobby Assocham pointed out on that an average a real estate project in India was delayed by 33 months or close to three years. In this scenario, it will take a real brave-heart to buy an under-construction property.

Further, with banks giving out more home loans, does that mean home prices have fallen, leading to people buying more homes? There is no way this can be figured out from the data as it is currently put out by the RBI.

What the RBI needs to reveal along with the total amount of home loans is the number of home loans as well. If this number is provided then it will become very easy to calculate the average home loan size. This average home loan can then be compared to the average home loan from the previous years and that can give us a good indication of which way home prices are headed.

If home loan size has gone up then we can safely say that prices have gone up as well and vice versa. Further, if the RBI can provide an average loan to value ratio (i.e. the total amount of the home loan divided by the market price of the home being financed), it will give us an even better indication of actual home prices and which way they are headed. One trouble here is that almost all real estate transactions in India have a black money component and there is no way the RBI can estimate that.

Nevertheless, despite this problem, if the RBI gives out the number of home loans along with the loan to value ratio (data which should not be very difficult to agglomerate) it will become slightly easier to make much more definitive statements about the real estate sector in India.

This becomes even more important from the point of view of the fact that there is very little data available on Indian real estate. Most data currently is provided by real estate consultants and they have an incentive in projecting things to be much better than they currently are.

Further, the current real estate indices (the RBI’s All-India Residential Property Price Index and National Housing Bank’s Residex) which give us some indication of which direction the real estate prices are headed, by the time they are published are fairly dated. There is no real time data coming out on Indian real estate which can be used to estimate which way are the real estate prices are headed. And that’s the most basic piece of information needed from any market.

At the same time, the National Housing Bank (which is wholly owned by the RBI) and regulates housing finance companies, should also be putting out similar data. One estimate here suggests that banks give out two-thirds of all home loans and housing finance companies, the remaining. In a country where the entire real estate sector is rigged against the consumer, this will be one consumer friendly move, which will be definitive.

Hope the RBI is listening.

(The column originally appeared on The Daily Reckoning on Nov 2, 2015)

Why the State Bank of India is in love with home loans

In yesterday’s edition of The Daily Reckoning
, I had discussed why teaser rate home loans are a bad idea. Arundhati Bhattacharya, the chairperson of the State Bank of India (SBI), recently put forward the idea that the country’s largest bank should be allowed to launch teaser rate home loans.

As I had explained yesterday, teaser home loans are essentially home loans in which the interest rate is fixed in the initial years and is lower than the normal floating interest rate on a home loan. The lower interest rate is limited only to the first two-three years after which the loan is priced at the prevailing interest rate on home loans.

The question is, why does Bhattacharya want to launch teaser rate home loans? Let’s look at some numbers of SBI. As on June 30, 2015, the bank had given out home loans worth Rs 1,63,678 crore, having grown by a robust 13.5% since June 30, 2014.This, when the overall domestic lending grew by a much slower 5.38%.

Between June 30, 2014 and June 30, 2015, the bank gave out home loans worth Rs 19,468 crore. Where did the overall lending stand at? The total domestic lending of the bank grew by Rs 54,255 crore during the same period. Hence, home loans formed a massive 35.9% of the total lending that SBI has done within India, between June 2014 and June 2015.

To rephrase the earlier sentence, more than one third of all domestic lending of SBI, over the last one year, has been in the form of home loans. For a diversified bank, which is not just a home loan company, this skew is way too pronounced.

Nevertheless, even after this, why does Bhattacharya want to give out more home loans, by launching teaser rate home loans? In order to answer this question I would need the average home loan size of SBI. I found two newsreports, which gave me two very different numbers. One report published in October 2014, quoted a senior SBI executive said that the average home loan size in case of SBI was at Rs 30-32 lakh. Another report published in April 2015 said that the average home loan size in case of SBI was at Rs 20 lakh.

The second number seems to me more believable given that the average home loan size of HDFC is Rs 23.4 lakh (HDFC shares its average home loan size every quarter). My guess is that the average home loan size of SBI would be a little lower than that of HDFC, given its better reach.

So we will work with an average home loan size of Rs 20 lakh. The next number needed is that home loan to value ratio, at the time the loan is given out. I couldn’t find that number for SBI (dear reader, hope you understand how difficult it is to get numbers on anything in India, despite the improvement over the years).

The number in case of HDFC is 65%. What this means is that on an average HDFC gives 65% of the market value of a home being bought, as a home loan.  If we work with this number, the average market price of a home that SBI is giving a loan against is around Rs 31 lakh (Rs 20 lakh divided by 0.65). But this does not take one factor into account.

Almost no real estate deal in India is carried out totally in white money. There is a portion of black money that inevitably needs to be paid. It is very difficult to arrive at an all India number, but my guess is that 75:25 is a good conservative ratio to work with. This means that 75% of the value of the home is paid in white and the remaining in black.

Once this factor is taken into account the market price against which a home loan is given, shoots up to around Rs 41 lakh (Rs 31 lakh divided by 0.75). What does this mean? This means that the loan to value ratio is a little under 50% (Rs 20 lakh expressed as a percentage of Rs 41 lakh).

Hence, giving out home loans is a very safe form of lending. In fact, it is the safest form of lending. For mid-level companies, bad loans were at 10.3%. So for every Rs 100 that SBI gave as loans to mid-level companies, a little over Rs 10 wasn’t repaid.

For, retail loans the bad loans were at 1.17%. The bank does not give a separate 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 bad loans case of home loans should be lower than 1.17%.

The bad loans in case of HDFC amount to 0.54% of the total loans. What this means clearly is that almost no one who takes on a home loan defaults on it. Given this, it is not surprising that Bhattacharya wants to be allowed to launch teaser rate home loans. It is better for her to do that than be lending to corporates. As Bhattacharya had said: “This is one portfolio where NPAs are the lowest.”

The fundamental problem with teaser rate home loans is that a bank cannot be allowed to give out a loan at a rate of interest lower than its base rate or the minimum interest rate a bank charges its customers. Also, they cannot really be compared to normal home loans, given that the chances of the EMI jumping up in the years to come is significantly higher in case of teaser home loans. And that is a risk that Bhattacharya probably hasn’t taken into account.

The column originally appeared on The Daily Reckoning on August 27, 2015