Home loans to be locked in at 9.5% for first 5 years

Home loans to be locked in at 9.5% for first 5 years

Mumbai: Public sector banks (PSBs) are set to offer home loans of up to Rs20 lakh at a concessional rate of 9.5% for a period of five years as part of the government’s fiscal stimulus package announced on Sunday to spur spending and bolster sagging economic growth.

All new home loans advanced by state-owned banks until 30 June will come at the 9.5% rate, which will be reset five years later depending on the prevailing trend, according to two senior bankers involved in devising the package who didn’t want to be named.

A formal announcement of the scheme will be made soon by public sector banks. Two officials at two different ministries, who also didn’t want to be named, confirmed the plan.

Housing is one of the key areas on which the government is focusing to lift economic growth that’s slowing from an average annual pace of 8.9% in the past four years. Lower interest rates prop up the demand for homes, which in turn, creates demand for steel and cement and generates jobs in the construction sector.

Banks and housing finance firms are now charging between 12% and 14% for fixed-rate home loans and offering floating-rate mortgages at between 9.5% and 11.75%.

Because the cost of funds for banks currently is higher than the rate at which they will offer loans under the new scheme, the government may work out an arrangement to compensate the lenders, analysts say.

It is not clear what will be the nature of the arrangement but “certainly not subvention", said one banker. The government offers 3% subvention—or interest subsidy—on small agricultural loans, which are given at a concessional rate of 7%.

The Reserve Bank of India’s (RBI) decision on Saturday to include home loans of up to Rs20 lakh in so-called priority sector lending—targeted at segments such as agriculture, small industry and education—will come in handy for banks to offer mortgages at a concessional rate.

Under banking industry guidelines, 40% of advances are meant to be channelled to the priority sector. Banks that are not able to meet the target are required to park the shortfall with the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development at a low interest rate. The money is used for rural infrastructure projects. Analysts say the five-year fixed rate of 9.5% will dent banks’ profitability if the government doesn’t offer a support plan for lenders in case interest rates remain at this level or rise further. But if interest rates drop, consumers will lose out on the benefit of falling rates.

“If interest rates fall and home loan rates come down below 9.5%, we will have to watch what exit options this package would provide. Many questions of potential borrowers might have to be answered before they go ahead and avail of such loans," said Ravi Sankar, a banking analyst at Antique Stock Broking Ltd, a Mumbai-based brokerage.

The asset quality of banks might be compromised if they try to push the scheme aggressively, Sankar said.

“This rate is quite attractive for borrowers at the moment," said Hatim Brochwala, an analyst at Khandwala Securities Ltd, another domestic brokerage. “However, if interest rates fall and home loan rates become cheaper, borrowers might start complaining. So, the banks will have to chalk out an exit plan. Converting fixed rate into floating rate (loans) may not be a good option as the penalty is heavy."

Analysts are betting that interest rates will come down by 300 basis points in two years and home loan rates will be cheaper than 9.5%. One basis point is one-hundredth of a percentage point.

On Saturday, the RBI announced a special refinancing package of Rs4,000 crore to the National Housing Bank, which regulates housing finance firms, to help prop up the home loan market. Analysts say the refinancing facility is too small.

Housing Development Finance Corp. Ltd (HDFC), India’s oldest mortgage firm, has a disbursal target of about Rs45,000 crore this year. While HDFC accounts for at least 40% of the housing loan market, public sector banks make up about 20%, limiting the scope of the stimulus package, analysts say. ICICI Bank Ltd, India’s largest private sector bank, is a prominent lender in the mortgage market.