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PETALING JAYA: Higher loan defaults, among individual borrowers and corporates, are expected to emerge as interest rate hikes to reduce inflationary pressures grip the economy.

Although the higher rates are good news for banks in terms of profitability, they may also result in loan defaults in the near term.

UCSI University assistant professor in finance Liew Chee Yoong, who is also a fellow at the Centre for Market Education, said the gross impaired loans (GIL) ratio would be higher due to the latest interest rate hike.

UCSI University assistant professor in finance Liew Chee Yoong

“The rise in interest rates will raise the interest expense of loan borrowers and increase their financial risk.

“Therefore, I will not be surprised if more individual and corporate borrowers will be in financial distress due to higher interest servicing this year.

“More loans will be impaired due to the higher likelihood of credit default by borrowers,” he added.

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The GIL ratio is defined as gross impaired loans as a percentage of gross loans, advances and financing.

Bank Negara has raised its overnight policy rate (OPR) by 25 basis points (bps) to 2.25% on July 6 amid positive economic growth prospects. It was the second consecutive increase after the 25 bps hike in May, which was also the first time the OPR was raised since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The OPR, which is a benchmark rate that allows banks to determine their lending and deposit rates, had been reduced by a cumulative 125 bps during the pandemic to a historic low of 1.75%.

RAM Rating Services Bhd co-head of financial institution ratings Wong Yin Ching said higher interest rates could impinge on some highly leveraged borrowers, although most borrowers would likely be able to absorb the slightly higher loan instalments.RAM co-head of Financial Institution Ratings Wong Yin Ching.“We may see the banking sector’s GIL ratio rise to 2.5% by end-2022, which is still deemed manageable in our view.

“Provisioning expenses, however, are not anticipated to increase in tandem with impaired loans as banks had judiciously built up provisioning reserves since the start of the pandemic.

“With most of the loan relief measures being progressively wound down in the first half of the year, defaults have begun to trend up,” she added.

The banking industry’s GIL ratio rose from 1.5% as of end-December 2021 to 1.64% as of end-May.

CGS-CIMB Securities analyst Winson Ng also expected higher GIL ratios this year.

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