Saturday, March 25, 2017

Leaked! Secret letter from Narendra Modi to Rahul Gandhi after the recent elections

A secret letter written by PM Narendra Modi to Congress VP Rahul Gandhi soon after the recent five state elections has been leaked online. Here is the full text of the letter:

13th March 2017

Dear Rahul ji,

The elections are over, and they have gone largely as per plan. Your efforts were invaluable in Uttar Pradesh. Akhilesh beta never realized that "Hand" is used to stop a "Bicycle", not to accelerate it ! But he is still young, will learn over time. In fact your efforts in U.P. were so effective that there was also a strong rub-off on neighboring Uttarakhand. A big thank you for this! We are also very happy with what happened in Manipur, where we were a big Zero just five years ago! There was a slight problem in Goa, but I admit it was all our own fault. Parrikar ji was not there, and our people were busy fighting amongst themselves. However we have fixed that problem now, so don’t worry. Meanwhile, you are free to imagine that it is the Congress who won the mandate in Goa and Manipur. Victory - after all - is just a state of mind.

We are however not at all happy with what happened in Punjab. This is a serious matter. You should have campaigned more vigorously in Punjab instead of leaving everything to Amarinder Singh ji. It seems you were focused only on Uttar Pradesh. This is sheer negligence. Because of this, deadlines for Project “Congress-mukt Bharat” will now have to be pushed forward to 2022. But it is okay this one last time, we are letting you off with just a warning.

You are now free to resume your foreign holiday. This is a good time to visit Bangkok. It always is! You can plan for a visit to Europe too, but don’t, even by mistake, go to the U.S.! I hope you remember what happened in 2001? Luckily Atalji was able to help you that time, but this time we may not be able to do anything. Trump Uncle is very strict. He may suspect you are there to sell kitchen utensils, Made in Jaunpur, of course. So please take care.

And yes, don’t forget to return for Karnataka elections next year.

Happy holidays!

Warm Regards,

Narendra Modi

Sunday, March 12, 2017

What we learn from recent elections in India

In an extraordinary move one fine evening in November last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced sudden withdrawal of 86% of India’s currency in circulation, in what he termed as a crackdown on black money. In a predominantly cash based economy like India, it was an unprecedented move and has no parallel anywhere in the world. While the last word on “notebandi” has not been said yet, several elections – both local bodies and states - since then confirm voters have not been averse to the action. This is in sharp contrast to what was shown incessantly on electronic media during those eventful days of acute currency shortages. Besides a verdict on demonetization, here are some takeaways from recent elections in the country not just in the five states that went to polls last month, but elsewhere as well.

Democracy is flourishing in India as voters demand performance & accountability
The mainstream media has no touch with reality. I wonder how they justify the crores they get as salary. For example, the sheer scale of BJP’s election victory in Uttar Pradesh is mindboggling. Yet, throughout the election campaign, the media painted a picture of a keen contest between the “UP ke ladke” Vs. Narendra Modi, with Mayawati’s BSP thrown in for some additional spice. The media narrative portrayed a largely equal fight, or occasionally an edge to the BJP depending on whom you believed. As if to justify prior coverage, the exit polls also reflected similar trends, with BJP a bit ahead of the rest but not too much. But it all fell flat when the results were declared. This is true not just for U.P. but elsewhere as well. Recall that the non-stop coverage for more than a month of the poor “suffering” in bank queues (some even died!) also turned out to be top class fiction. Clearly, if you are watching too much TV, especially the newsroom debates & “expert” analyses, you are wasting your time. Go, get a life.

There is no substitute for hard work. Narendra Modi’s charisma sits on top of several decades of solid ground level work by RSS & several of its affiliate organizations in the remotest corners of the country. You cannot build a sustainable electoral model without some real groundwork & voter connect at the grassroots. Mulayam Singh Yadav built Samajwadi Party from scratch. He has spent his whole life in the rough & tumble of U.P.’s realpolitik, connecting with people, building relations and nurturing the party to what it is. In the 2012 U.P. State Assembly elections, people voted for Samajwadi Party with “Netaji” in mind. But it was Akhilesh who was made the CM. You can inherit party posts but not the personal touch & rapport with the people. You have to build that yourself. Governing a State & showcasing a couple of projects is one thing, having a grassroots level connect with the people that makes them vote for you again & again is another. It is no surprise that cutting across party lines, one can see that most second generation politicians are failures.

There are no shortcuts to success, no substitute for real groundwork and people connect
Leadership matters. In Uttar Pradesh, Narendra Modi staked his personal reputation at risk and led the battle from the front. There is no doubt that BJP could not have pulled off such a huge success if Modi had stayed away from campaigning or only made token appearances. Ideology has ceased to matter. Choosing your party is no longer a question of ideology you subscribe to. All parties call themselves socialist and secular. Nobody reads party manifestos. Even freebies have ceased to matter, if only because everyone promises a bountiful of them, so the factor gets neutralized. People want forceful, decisive leadership.

There are no vote banks. The “secular” narrative is dead. Sixty five percent of India’s population is below the age of 35. The median age of an Indian is 27.6 years. The generation which saw Partition has passed away. To a large section of today’s voters, even the Ayodhya demolition is “history”. And voters are no longer swayed by what happened in history. The BJP has successfully shed its “communal” label. Even Muslim attitudes towards BJP are changing. But like an Ostrich who buries its head in the sand, the old generation “secular” politicians - most of them past their retirement age - refuse to see this reality. Even the caste factor is overrated. Just because one can generate caste-wise statistics and blabber some nonsense, it does not follow that voters who cast their vote ‘vote their caste’. Even where a correlation exists between the caste of the electorate & the elected, it does not prove causation. I have not seen a single survey or opinion poll which asked the voters why they voted for a candidate they did, and majority of the voters pointed to caste as the driving factor. No wonder sand it slipping from under the feet of parties who thrived on such narrow agendas. In an article three years back, I called such parties “Dodos of Indian Politics”.  

Voters have become demanding. Television & radio has reached every home. Internet penetration is increasing rapidly. Literacy has improved significantly over the years. People are much more aware of what’s happening in & around them. You just can’t take them for a ride anymore with empty promises. The voters have become demanding, and politicians who fail to deliver get thrown out. This is repeatedly getting proved one election after another, be it in Nitish Kumar retaining Bihar, or the Akalis losing Punjab. 

Despite its recent spate of successes, even BJP cannot rest on its laurels. It will have to deliver genuine improvements to the lives of the people. Otherwise the same fate awaits them.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Understanding Bank NPAs

“Reserve Bank extends EMI Holiday” screamed the newspaper early in the morning of 22nd November 2016, amidst those chaotic days of Rs.500 & Rs.1000 "demonetization". “RBI allows both individuals and firms with loans upto Rs. 1 crore an additional grace period of 60 days to repay dues”, said the paper.

...except that there was never any EMI holiday

“Demonetization: RBI gives small borrowers 60 extra days to repay credit”, said another - a leading financial daily, “…small borrowers who have been facing the brunt of demonetization, would get an additional 60 days to repay their credit, including agriculture and housing loans”.

Similar reports were carried by most newspapers that day, and repeated ad nauseum by television channels for several days thereafter. There was however one small problem – the news was completely wrong.
Most media houses wrongly reported the news

What RBI had said

What then had caused the press to report something like this, which wasn’t true at all? The answer to this lay in a circular issued by the Reserve Bank of India, put up on its website the previous day. The circular, titled “Relaxation in Prudential Norms”, said “…it has been decided to provide an additional 60 days beyond what is applicable for the concerned regulated entity(RE) for recognition of a loan account as substandard in the following cases…” and cited a wide gamut of loan accounts where this benefit will be applicable. Read the full circular here.

The operative term here is ‘additional 60 days…for recognition of a loan account as substandard’ which was misinterpreted to mean borrowers getting an extra 60 days to repay their EMIs or other dues. In fact, the RBI circular clearly mentioned “…this is a short-term deferment of classification…” and that this “…does not result in restructuring of the loans”. Shorn of its jargon, this means there is no change in dates when the borrowers have to repay, but if they do not, banks can have an additional 60 days to do what they do when the borrowers do not repay.

Understanding NPAs

News reporters and financial journalists aside, I have seen even analysts tracking the banking sector struggle with these terms. When banks give loans, the loans appear on the asset side of a Balance Sheet. A repayment goes on to reduce that asset, while a fresh disbursement increases these assets. However, not all loans get fully repaid, and occasionally a customer defaults. This leads to a capital loss for the bank, as the assets have to be written off. To an extent, such losses are considered ‘normal’ in the banking business, and prudence requires that banks prepare for them well in advance. This is where ‘provisioning’ comes in.

Provisioning means banks booking an ‘expense’ entry in the Profit & Loss account based on the expected losses arising from such defaults. Provisioning reduces reported profits of the bank and creates a capital buffer, which can be used when the losses actually occur. The amount of provisioning to be done is prescribed by the RBI, and depends on the ‘quality’ of the asset. The worse the quality, higher the provisioning, since lower are the chances you will ever recover your money.

Asset Classification

This is where ‘Asset Classification’ comes in. RBI requires banks to classify all loans in four groups – Standard, Sub-standard, Doubtful and Loss. Initially, all loans start as ‘Standard’. Assets under the other three categories are collectively called “Non-Performing Assets” or NPAs. NPAs are loans where principal or interest has not been received for more than 90 days beyond its due date. The RBI defines ‘Sub-standard’ as an asset which has remained an NPA for a period less than or equal to 12 months. After 12 months as an NPA, the asset degrades to ‘Doubtful’. ‘Loss’ assets are assets where the bank feels there is no hope of recovery from the customer at all. If an EMI was due on 5th February 2017 and the customer failed to pay, the loan would become ‘sub-standard’ on 6th May 2017 (i.e. 90 days after this date). Twelve months after this date i.e. from 6th May 2018 onwards, the loan will be called a ‘Doubtful’ asset.

Note the following peculiarities in this:

1.       A loan does not become an NPA immediately after default. For 90 days, it continues as a ‘Standard’ asset, though conventionally one is inclined to equate 'standard’ assets as those where the customers are repaying on time. Thus, given that demonetization was announced on the evening of 8th November 2016, even an asset due on 9th November and remaining in default would not become an NPA on 31st December 2016. And this even without taking recourse to the extra 60 days provided by the above circular.

2.       There is no hard & fast definition of a ‘Loss’ asset, it is based on a subjective assessment of the bank about the recoverability of the loan. In theory, a loan may continue to be classified as ‘Doubtful’ for several years after default, without ever being moved to ‘Loss’.

Why this classification matters is that the ‘provisioning’ banks are required to do – which, as we saw is an ‘expense’ and hits the bank’s profitability - depend on the category of the loan, progressively increasing as the loan moves down the quality lane from Sub-standard to Doubtful and Doubtful to Loss. RBI even requires banks to make provisioning on Standard assets.

Gross & Net NPAs

When banks declare their financial results, the 'Gross NPA’ and ‘Net NPA’ levels of the bank receive a lot of attention. The summation of assets under the category Sub-standard, Doubtful and Loss – are called the ‘Gross NPA’ of the bank. If you deduct the amount of provisioning done from the Gross NPA, the resultant figure is the ‘Net NPA’ of the bank. But we have seen above that provisioning is an arbitrary number – partly driven by a regulatory minimum, partly driven by the bank’s own discretion. This makes 'Net NPA’ also an arbitrary number. ‘Gross NPA’ however is a much more tangible number – it tells precisely the amount of loans overdue by 90 days or more. There is no subjectivity around it.

The NPA figures are often quoted in terms of percentages. When bank results are declared at the end of every quarter, analysts look at the ratios ‘Gross NPA %’ and ‘Net NPA %’ to determine the quality of bank's assets. Gross NPA % is calculated as ‘Gross NPA of the bank (as described earlier) divided by standard advances plus the gross NPAs’ of the bank i.e. effectively the sum of all loans outstanding as on the date of calculation. Net NPA% is calculated as the ‘Net NPA of the bank (as described earlier) divided by net advances’ i.e. sum of all loans outstanding less the provisioning for NPAs.

Note that only the absolute change in the Gross NPA comes close to showing the true movement of NPAs of the bank. And that too, with the lag of one quarter! That is, Gross NPA as of end-December minus the Gross NPA as of end-September will account for fresh defaults that have taken place in the July to September - and not the October to December - quarter! Net NPAs are distorted by provisioning, and both the ‘percentage ratios’ (Gross NPA% and Net NPA %) are distorted by the denominator. A bank can issue fresh imprudent loans and inflate the denominator, thus showing low NPA%. These fresh loans would become NPAs earliest only in the next quarter because of the 90-day rule.

It’s not over yet. There are write-offs too!

Even difference in Gross non performing assets doesn’t tell the full story of bank’s NPA movement. NPAs are further impacted by the assets “written off” during the period. And this figure may only be available from the Annual Report once a year. Written off assets are reversed completely from the asset book, reducing the Gross NPAs of the bank and the overall asset base itself.

Coming back to RBI circular mentioned earlier, all that the RBI said was that for loans with due dates between 1st November 2016 to 31st December 2016; banks have an extra 60 days – beyond the normal 90 - to recognize them as NPAs. They would become NPAs only if they remain unpaid for 150 days after the due date i.e. between 30th March 2017 to 31st May 2017 respectively, instead of 30th Jan 2017 to 31st March 2017. The asset classification and the amount of provisioning the banks have to do, would be guided accordingly.

As far as the borrowers are concerned, there was no change in their obligations to the bank; their due dates remained the same. There was no “EMI holiday” nor any “extra 60 days” to repay their credit.