Indonesia bank rally imperilled by sluggish lending


JAKARTAThe rally in Indonesian bank stocks may be nearing an end amid sluggish credit growth and tougher regulations for loan quality assessments.

Equity analysts are now downgrading banking stocks after the Jakarta Finance Index rallied 21% this year — more than double that of the main gauge — as they expect non-performing loans in the US$527 billion (RM2.21 trillion) industry to creep up again.

Lenders may need to set aside bigger buffers against bad loans after the Financial Services Authority of Indonesia, known as OJK, decided against extending a rule first introduced in 2015 that allowed for looser provisioning terms.

Demand for credit has been disappointing. The central bank last month cut its 2017 loan-growth target to a range of 8%-10% after previously forecasting 10%-12%.

Compare that to a whopping near20% growth in the past decade. Bank Indonesia’s surprise rate cut last month has yet to kickstart demand for loans.

“Banking stocks have rallied so much this year that it is hard for investors to expect more upside to them, especially with the not-so positive outlook and the rich valuation,” said Jemmy Paul, investment director at PT Sucorinvest Asset Management.

“Prices have to come down from what they are right now for me to put in more money to the banking stocks.”

This year’s rally has been fuelled by expectations for a recovery in South-East Asia’s biggest economy and an investment grade nod by S&P Global Ratings.

Improvement in asset quality also prompted speculation that banks could refocus their attention on lending after cleaning up their books in the past two years.

Paul, whose Sucorinvest Equity Fund has outperformed 97% of its peers in the past year, said rich valuations and slowing loan growth makes it hard to justify buying more bank stocks.

The Jakarta Finance Index is valued 15% above its five-year average, while commercial banks’ loan growth has slowed to 7.6% from their 10-year average of 19%.

The finance gauge fell as much as 0.6% last Friday in Jakarta before erasing those losses at the close. PT Bank Central Asia lost 0.5% and PT Bank Negara Indonesia dropped 1%.

Bank Central Asia has rallied 22% this year, valuing the lender at US$35 billion, which is second only to Singapore’s DBS Group Holdings Ltd in the Asean region, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The bank was downgraded by PT Bahana Sekuritas and CIMB Group Holdings Bhd recently. It now has almost as many ‘Hold’ ratings from analysts as it does buys, according to 36 recommendations compiled by Bloomberg. Three firms suggest investors sell.

PT Bank Rakyat Indonesia, whose market cap is bigger than any Malaysian bank, saw at least two downgrades in August.

The lender and Bank Negara Indonesia have rallied more than 28% this year and are set for the best annual gain since 2014.

While the gross non-performing-loan ratio at Indonesian banks has fallen to 2.96% in June from at least a five-year high of 3.22% in August 2016, the figure may tick higher after OJK imposed tighter criteria for bad-loan classifications — a signal of confidence in the industry.

“We believe the development will marginally increase non-performing loans, but will not significantly hurt banking sector profitability,” Tariq Ali, a Singapore-based investment strategist at Standard Chartered Bank plc, wrote in an email.

“However, this coupled with the possibility of another central bank rate cut, suggests limited scope for a further rally in Indonesian banks.” — Bloomberg