I recently started analyzing financial institutions such as brokerages, banks and HFC (housing finance companies). I wrote about brokerage firms here and here.

In this post, I will be looking at some key factors in analyzing banks. I have written about banks earlier – see here, here and here. I have covered several factors important in analyzing a bank, in these earlier posts and will be analyzing some additional factors now with some current examples to emphasize my point.

Key factors
Return on equity – This is a critical factor in analyzing a bank.  A high ROE is good and low is bad – right? It’s not completely black and white. Other factors being equal (which are listed below), a high ROE is good. However this number has to be looked at in context of CAR (capital adequacy ratio) and quality of assets (NPA number). Most of the top banks such as HDFC, Axis etc have an ROE in excess of 20% or higher.

An additional number to look at in conjunction with ROE is ROA (return on asset). A number in excess of 1.3% is generally good.

CAR – This is the ratio of equity to risk weighted assets. The RBI has a guideline on the minimum CAR ratio for a bank and if the CAR ratio falls below this number, then the bank has to either raise equity or reduce the assets (read loans) to get the number in line with the guidelines. You can think of this number as fuel for growth – higher the number, higher the amount of loans which the bank can make. In addition a high number also enables the bank to absorb loan losses.

The CAR number for most of the banks has improved in the last few years and banks like HDFC, Axis , Karur vyasa bank (KVB) etc have CAR ratios of around 15% (v/s statutory number of around 9%)

Net/ Gross NPA – This number points to the amount of bad loans (interest over due by 90 days) on the bank’s books.  A low number is always good.  An NPA number (net NPA) of more than 4% is alarming and points to a considerable amount of bad assets. In addition, one can expect the bank to take provisions (keep aside some of the profits) to reduce the NPA

This number has dropped considerably in the last few years for most banks and is as low as 0.2% for banks such as Axis, HDFC bank and Yes bank.

Provision / GPA – This is another key factor to look at from an asset quality standpoint. One can look at this number in conjunction with Net NPA. Provision/Gross NPA tells us how much of the bad loans have been accounted for (profits set aside to write off the loans). A 100% number would mean that the bank has set aside the entire bad loan amount from the profits.

The current guideline from RBI is that all banks need to have a minimum 70% coverage ratio.

Borrowing cost – This is the equivalent of raw material cost for a manufacturing company. A low number is always good. A bank is able borrow money via the savings/current accounts of its customer and through bulk deposits.  The savings/ current account generally payout a low interest rate and is the best source of low cost funds for the bank.

An associated number to track for the bank is the CASA ratio (current and saving account/ total deposit). A high and growing CASA ratio, means that the bank has a low cost of funds and is growing this source further.

Banks such as Axis bank or State bank of India which have a high CASA ratio, have cost of funds which is as low as 5%. On the other hand the newer banks such as Yes bank which are still putting their retail network in place have a low CASA ratio of around 10% and a much higher cost of funds. One can expect these banks to keep expanding their network and drive down their cost of funds .

NIM (net interest margins) – This is the difference between the borrowing costs and the lending rate. A higher number is good, but upto a point. A number much higher than industry average can be risky as the bank may be lending to risky borrowers (real estate developers, brokers etc) and may face bad debts at a later date.

This number has seen an improvement in the last few years to around 3% levels for most banks due to a combination of reducing loan losses (NPA) and improvement in cost ratios (operating costs)

 NII (non interest income) – This is the non lending type income – think of it as the icing on the cake (in some cases a lot of icing). This includes income from investments (in bonds and government securities), brokerage/ service income from distribution of financial products, income from derivative and forex contracts etc.

There is almost an unsaid assumption, that NII is good and higher the NII, better the quality of the earnings. I don’t  agree with this assumption. I prefer to look at the composition of NII. If the non interest income is through trading or through gains in the value of investments, then the quality and sustainability of the earnings is not high.

Next post :  More ratios and some non financial factors and how to look at them to develop a composite picture of the bank.

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