RBI unveils new math for banks’ base rate
Indian banks will soon have to price their loans based on rules announced by the central bank on Thursday in a move that is aimed at making lending rates more responsive to policy rate changes.
Starting 1 April, lenders will calculate their lending rates based on the marginal cost of funds, or the rate offered on new deposits. The new rules will likely to make loans cheaper for new borrowers. For existing borrowers, it may take as much as a year for the benefits to be transmitted.
Banks currently set their lending rates based on the average cost of funds on deposits outstanding.
Reserve Bank of India (RBI) governor Raghuram Rajan has repeatedly emphasized the need for banks to pass on interest rate cuts, saying less than half had been passed on to consumers this year.
While RBI has cut its benchmark rate by 125 basis points in 2015, lending rates have come down only by 60 basis points, RBI said in its December monetary policy review. One basis point is one-hundredth of a percentage point.
“While these guidelines will benefit new customers, existing customers will also have an option to shift to the new regime with some conditions,” Arundhati Bhattacharya, chairman of the nation’s largest lender State Bank of India, said in an emailed statement. “Sufficient time has been given to banks to switch over to the new regime of marginal cost of funds-based lending rate.”
By allowing banks to move to the new system for fresh loans and giving them the option to stay with the base rate system for existing loans, lenders will be spared a one-time hit to profits, which some had feared.
The Indian banking sector has struggled through a number of rate-setting methods over the last few years and has moved from a benchmark prime lending rate (BPLR) system to a base rate (or minimum lending rate) system and now the marginal cost of funds-based lending rate (MCLR). This time around, the shift was once again driven by weak transmission of interest rate cuts.
According to the new rules, every bank will be required to calculate its marginal cost of funds across different tenors. To this, the banks will add other components including operating cost and a tenor premium. A tenor premium is the compensation for the risk associated with lending for a longer time.
Taking all these components into account, banks will then publish an MCLR for overnight loans, one-month, three-months, six-months and one-year loans. This MCLR will act as the minimum or base lending rate for that tenor of loans irrespective of the borrower.
The final lending rate will be MCLR plus the spread that banks will charge for individual categories of borrowers.
“Apart from helping improve the transmission of policy rates into the lending rates of banks, these measures are expected to improve transparency in the methodology followed by banks for determining interest rates on advances,” RBI said in a statement on Thursday.
“The guidelines are also expected to ensure availability of bank credit at interest rates which are fair to the borrowers as well as the banks,” it said.
Bankers said the new rules related to differentiation based on loan tenor will help them price their loans better.
“The differentiation based on tenor will be a big positive for banks as now we would be able to price our loans based on the deposits of the corresponding tenor, rather than the older practice of considering 3-6 month deposit rate for computing base rates for all loans,” said R.K. Bansal, executive director at state-owned IDBI Bank Ltd. “Now we would be able to avoid this mismatch.”
With the inclusion of shorter term MCLR rates, banks can compete with the commercial paper market as well, Bansal added.
The new rules will reduce the cost of borrowing for companies, according to a Canara Bank official, who declined to be named as he is not authorized to speak to reporters.
“This has made the lending rate framework more dynamic as different banks could have different MCLRs for different tenures,” the official of the state-run lender said
In its circular, RBI said banks should specify the dates on which interest rates would be reset for borrowers. This reset must have at least once a year but can happen more frequently as well.
“The MCLR prevailing on the day the loan is sanctioned will be applicable till the next reset date, irrespective of the changes in the benchmark during the interim period,” said RBI.
Banks, however, have been given the option to keep outstanding loans linked to the base rate system even though it said existing borrowers will also have the option to move to an MCLR linked loan “at mutually acceptable terms”.
Most banks are unlikely to offer this option easily, said a banker who declined to be identified, which means that any immediate hit to profitability may be avoided.
“We don’t expect much of an impact on margins since the existing loans have been left untouched,” said Bansal.
Certain loans such as those extended under government schemes or under restructuring package, advances to banks’ depositors against their own deposits, loans to banks’ own employees including retired employees and loans linked to a market-determined external benchmark will be exempt from the MCLR rule, RBI said.
Fixed-rate loans granted by banks will also be exempt from MCLR. However, in case of hybrid loans where the interest rates are partly fixed and partly floating, interest rate on the floating portion should adhere to the MCLR guidelines.
RBI had mooted adoption of marginal cost of funds for calculation of lending rates in its April policy citing lack of effective transmission of its rate cuts into bank base rates. Bankers cited the stickiness of deposit rates and lack of credit demand as reasons for the delay in passing on lower rates.
“There might be short-term problems when dealing with the new norms as banks might want to offer better spreads to their larger customers who can negotiate a better rate. However, once the system stabilizes, it will be more or less uniform across the board and borrowers will get rates which reflect the interest rates in the economy better,” said Vibha Batra, senior vice-president at rating company Icra Ltd.
Batra added that there could be some shuffling in the home loan segment since existing borrowers will also want to move to an MCLR-linked rate if they see that as being cheaper. Banks, however, may be reluctant to allow existing borrowers to move.
“Lenders will have to come up with better schemes to retain home-loan customers by allowing them to move to the MCLR regime,” said Batra.