RBI reduced interest rates, banks were forced to follow, and now, arbitrage funds have become more attractive for various reasons. At this period, there are other tax free bond issues which have hit the markets, another attractive investment competing against the bank deposits. And due to this banks have lost more than 41000 crores of deposits.
Now, this opens up some concerns. Banks have suddenly hit a vacuum. Today bank rates hover around 8% and all the income from bank FD is taxable at the hands of the investor, which brings down the real returns to a little above 5.50% after taxes for a person who is in the highest tax slab. Compare this with about 7.50-7.60% tax free returns from bond issues and about 7.41-7.50% returns from the arbitrage funds. Tax free bonds are locked in and are very much illiquid when someone wants to sell their holdings, whereas Arbitrage funds are tax free after 365 days and carry zero risk. So the choice of the investment community has changed for good to Arbitrage Funds.
The banks on the other hand are put to some more new challenges due to the interest rate change. Banks normally used to have about 4% spread between the deposit rate and disbursal rate. That is, they borrow at 8% and lend at 12%. Making a cool 50% gain for themselves, for an effort which most of us know about the quality of assets the banks hold. Banking sector was enjoying a grand lifestyle by doing nothing. Now, things have changed, they cannot continue to be lethargic, there is a need for value addition, be more accountable and face the competition.
Corporate bonds give about 9-11%, so when corporates want funding for their businesses, they will not go to the banks as they get funds at a cheaper rate through direct bond issues. For some time now banks had large funds and were finding it difficult to find borrowers to lend their funds and earn, now, very soon fund inflows will dry up and help them do away with the difficulty to find borrowers for their funds. To that extent, they are free of work now. And, who will now want funds from the banks? Small business people, where credibility is a far bigger concern and with the way our banks do due diligence, more defaults are guaranteed.
Arbitrage funds are the best choice; it is liquid and has the tax free status after 365 days from investment. Far less risky, when compared to bank deposits. And how is this now? Off late we have had very big defaults n bank lending, cases like Deccan Chronicle, Kingfisher Air were examples. Banks have lost big time, no doubt government will pay back depositors money, while how long can the government support mistakes made by the banks. Soon, there will be a norm that they have to defend themselves and with that banks have two choices, either perform and deliver or close down. This may take time to come through, until then, invest in a place where you earn more and also enjoy the pain the banking system will go through in the coming years.