Friday, January 21, 2011

The Stink From India

The Symbol of Indian Rupee approved by the Uni...Image via Wikipedia
New York Times: November 2010: India Microcredit Faces Collapse From Defaults: India’s rapidly growing private microcredit industry faces imminent collapse as almost all borrowers in one of India’s largest states have stopped repaying their loans, egged on by politicians who accuse the industry of earning outsize profits on the backs of the poor. ........ Indian banks, which put up about 80 percent of the money that the companies lent to poor consumers, are increasingly worried that after surviving the global financial crisis mostly unscathed, they could now face serious losses. Indian banks have about $4 billion tied up in the industry ........ for-profit “social enterprises” that seek to make money while filling a social need ...... microfinance in pursuit of profits has led some microcredit companies around the world to extend loans to poor villagers at exorbitant interest rates and without enough regard for their ability to repay ...... microfinance could become India’s version of the United States’ subprime mortgage debacle, in which the seemingly noble idea of extending home ownership to low-income households threatened to collapse the global banking system because of a reckless, grow-at-any-cost strategy. ...... legislators in the state of Andhra Pradesh last month passed a stringent new law restricting how the companies can lend and collect money. ..... local leaders urged people to renege on their loans, and repayments on nearly $2 billion in loans in the state have virtually ceased. Lenders say that less than 10 percent of borrowers have made payments in the past couple of weeks. ..... the industry faces collapse in a state where more than a third of its borrowers live. Lenders are also having trouble making new loans in other states, because banks have slowed lending to them as fears about defaults have grown. ..... “They aren’t looking at sustainability or ensuring the money is going to income-generating activities. They are just making money.” ...... the industry had become no better than the widely despised village loan sharks it was intended to replace. ...... SKS and its shareholders raised more than $350 million on the stock market in August. Its revenue and profits have grown around 100 percent annually in recent years. This year, Vikram Akula, chairman of SKS Microfinance, privately sold shares worth about $13 million. ...... a few rogue operators may have given improper loans, but that the industry was too important to fail. “Microfinance has made a tremendous contribution to inclusive growth,” he said. Destroying microfinance, he said, would result in “nothing less than financial apartheid.” ...... Indian microfinance companies have some of the world’s lowest interest rates for small loans. Mr. Akula said that his company had reduced its interest rate by six percentage points, to 24 percent, in the past several years as volume had brought down expenses. ..... many lenders grew too fast and lent too aggressively. Investments by private equity firms and the prospect of a stock market listing drove firms to increase lending as fast as they could ..... the number of borrowers who are struggling to pay off their debts is much smaller than officials have asserted. He estimates that 20 percent have borrowed more than they can afford and that just 1 percent are in serious trouble ...... microfinance firms had lost sight of the fact that the poor needed more than loans to be successful entrepreneurs. They need business and financial advice as well ..... the industry was now planning to create a fund to help restructure the loans of the 20 percent of borrowers in Andhra Pradesh who were struggling. ..... The television, the mobile phone and the two buffaloes she bought with one loan were sold long ago.
Home ownership by the poor is not what caused the global financial meltdown. It was bad behavior on the part of bankers. This crisis in India can also be attributed to bad behavior on the part of bankers. But this crisis is overblown. Before I ever came to America I thought New York City was all about crimes and crimes alone.
Indien Andhra PradeshImage via Wikipedia
India is a democracy. What do you expect? If bankers are going to misbehave, politicians are going to step in and get in the way of that bad behavior. On the other hand, the politicians could end up killing the hen that lays the golden egg. In their zeal to curry favor with the low income voters, they might scare away those voters' one option to upward social mobility.

Defaulting is an okay option. If one of your borrowers commits suicide instead of formally defaulting, you are obviously not explaining yourself well. The goal never is to get 100% of your loans repaid. A 2% default rate is excellent. A 5% default rate is still good. It is that default rate that allows you to take risks and make profits.

This article is slightly irresponsible in that it has blown the crisis out of proportion. Microfinance remains a great way to tackle poverty, the best way. And I am as gungho about for profit microfinance as ever.
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