Liquidity risk is increasing for Indian-based real-estate developers, as non-bank financial institutions (NBFIs) including housing finance companies are shying away from lending to the sector, says a research note
In the report, Fitch Ratings says, "Developers that rely on refinancing from NBFIs, particularly those with weak financial profiles, will be affected the most should conditions persist. The availability of unencumbered assets among large developers may be of limited use, as NBFIs are looking to shed their already-high exposure to the sector, especially to large borrowers."
According to the ratings agency, NBFIs have disproportionately increased their share of real-estate sector credit in the previous few years, owing to heightened risk aversion by banks. Banks have been cutting exposure due to their own funding challenges that began in late 2018, which have become more acute in the previous few months as domestic bank exposures fell to 2.3% of loans in the financial year ending March 2019 (FY19), from 2.8% in FY16.
NBFIs are now also shying away from refinancing maturing debt of even large, proven developers to limit concentration risk to the sector, Fitch says, adding this is pushing developers towards alternative funding channels, such as private equity. "The availability of such funding could be more limited than the value of maturing debt and may only be available to established developers with sufficient unpledged assets. It would also come at a higher cost. We believe banks may still consider exposure to quality real estate, but overall exposure continues to decline," it adds.
According to the ratings agency, developers that are focused on high-end projects may face higher risk, as sales of such projects have slowed in the last two years.
It says, "We believe these developers would be wary of taking sharp price corrections on unsold inventory to boost sales, except in extreme circumstances, as this could diminish the value of unsold inventory and weaken collateral cover for existing lenders. In addition, any boost in sales would be temporary. Meanwhile, developers with substantial exposure to affordable housing may still benefit from marginal access to lenders in light of healthy pre-sales growth, supported by India's substantial housing deficit and government incentives for buyers via the credit-linked subsidy scheme as well as for developers, including tax deductions and grant of infrastructure status, which entitles companies to some benefits and concessions."
The government has announced measures to improve NBFI-sector liquidity, but their efficacy remains to be seen. For example, Fitch says it believes the government's July 2019 announcement to provide a first-loss guarantee of 10% on securitised assets issued by NBFIs to banks could ease funding pressure for NBFIs in the short term. However, the provision refers only to financially sound issuers and there is a lack of clarity about the duration of the guarantee and the definition of what comprises a 'financially sound' entity. In addition, most of the actions by the authorities to alleviate the liquidity squeeze will benefit the largest and least risky NBFIs and is unlikely to address the pressure on the more property focused players.
Defaults by two NBFIs - Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services Ltd (IL&FS) in September 2018 and Dewan Housing Finance Corp Ltd (DHFL) in June 2019 - have contributed to the sector-wide liquidity squeeze, as investors have become more risk averse. Banks' low appetite for lending to real-estate developers is evidenced by the usually high risk weights attached to such loans. These are due to developers' typically low credit ratings amid high leverage, making exposure to the sector an inefficient use of banks' already-limited capital.
"Substantial bank recapitalisation to increase lending capacity could benefit NBFIs as well as real-estate developers, subject to the banks' risk appetite. Although a structural improvement in NBFI asset books would take time. Nonetheless, even under better conditions we expect NBFI's to tighten credit standards, with developers facing funding pressure until there is a broader improvement in their operations, with better end-user demand and pricing support," Fitch Ratings concluded.