Home > Markets > Mark To Market > SBI Cards IPO ticks all boxes, but timing may be an issue

Mumbai: "Credit card interest payments are the dumbest money of all," said US actor and author Hill Harper. But evidently, many are willing to make these payments, and the tribe is growing rapidly.

Stock market investors now have a unique opportunity to stake claim to this easy money, with SBI Cards and Payment Services Ltd (SBI Cards) set to list its shares. The largest credit card businesses in India are run by banks in-house, and SBI Cards is one of the few large companies in the sector that is structured as a separate entity. In stock market parlance, this means SBI Cards will command a scarcity premium. Besides, there are many other factors that work in SBI Cards’ favour, and the initial public offering (IPO) is generally expected to be a success. But more on this later.

Where the IPO falls short is with regard to market timing. Unlike Radhakishan Damani of Avenue Supermarts Ltd, who timed the sale of promoter group shares worth 3,000 crore at the peak of the market in mid-February, the SBI Cards issue is hitting the markets on the back of a 9% correction in the Nifty.

Investors are getting increasingly jittery due to the rapid spread of the coronavirus. And since shares issued in an IPO list with a slight lag, the uncertainty may result in relatively fewer bids.

What should have been a blockbuster listing, therefore, could well end up being a mellow one, depending on how the markets are positioned at the time of listing.

(Graphic: Paras Jain/Mint)
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(Graphic: Paras Jain/Mint)

Some analysts are also concerned about valuations, especially now that the markets are correcting. At the upper end of the price band, the IPO would fetch 10,360 crore and value the company at 70,900 crore. That comes to around 45 times its annualized earnings per share for the nine months ended 31 December. Analysts at Motilal Oswal Financial Services Ltd said the price-to-book value multiple is roughly 12 times, which is steep when compared with that of a similar consumer credit business of Bajaj Finance Ltd, valued at 6.8 times its book.

If the markets stabilize, high valuations may still not be a deal-breaker, considering the nature of institutional investment lately. The markets have become increasingly narrow, with institutional investors in particular chasing a handful of stocks with high market capitalization, high growth and high return ratios. SBI Cards ticks these boxes. “SBI Cards’ strong growth prospects, superior return ratios and parental lineage call for premium valuations," analysts at Emkay Global Financial Services Ltd said in a note to clients.

As the chart shows, growth has been spectacular. Even assuming there is no listing pop, the stock will have a market value ahead of companies such as HDFC Asset Management Co. Ltd, ICICI Prudential Life Insurance Co. Ltd and InterGlobe Aviation Ltd. SBI Card is currently number two in the credit card market, with HDFC Bank leading on the basis of outstanding cards. Besides, return on equity was an impressive 37% based on nine- month results till 31 December.

The scope for growth is high as well. In a country with a billion people, credit cards have reached just 3% of them, far lower than the world average of about 35%. With the advantage of SBI’s wide reach, the cards business of its subsidiary is poised well. It is this potential for growth that has most analysts recommending a buy for the IPO.

Such is the confidence of the company’s management that Hardayal Prasad, managing director and chief executive officer, said it was competing with cash.

But investors should also note that the objective of the IPO looks to be giving existing shareholders an exit. To that extent, Carlyle Group would pocket a cool 7,039 crore through a dilution of 10% of its stake.

Now that the markets have turned wobbly, investors are likely to pay more attention to the risks involved. In the past, the government has tinkered with the merchant discount rate (MDR) on debit cards and there is a risk of a similar regulatory burden on credit cards as well. “We believe that regulatory intervention on MDR could have an impact on card fees across players and so also for SBI Cards, while SBI Card’s higher instance-based fees do not seem sustainable," said analysts at Emkay. Instance-based fees are fees imposed for late payments and redemption of reward points. The broker lists rising competition from alternative digital payment platforms, higher capital requirement and rising asset quality risk (given weakening macros/employment rates), as other risks the company faces.

The IPO, meanwhile, is priced to perfection. If the markets remain volatile when the IPO book is being built, the company’s selling shareholders may well need to settle for a more appropriate price.

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