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Sri Lanka banks trading at 10-yr low valuations: analysts

ECONOMYNEXT- Sri Lankan banks are trading at ten year lows compared to their most recent earnings, with stronger profits expected in 2020, due to tax cuts and a pick up in credit growth, equities researchers said.

“Compared to frontier and emerging markets, Sri Lankan banks have the lowest price to earnings ratios,” First Capital Senior Research Analyst Hiruni Perera said.

“Banks are still undervalued in Sri Lanka. Banking stocks are at a ten year low,” she said, speaking at the First Capital Investment Strategy 2020 Second Research Conference held on Tuesday.

Sri Lankan banks had ended 2019 at a price to trailing earnings multiple of 5.4 and a price to book value multiple of 0.7.

The price to earnings multiple of India-based Axis Bank Ltd was 17.3 at end-December, while Bank of the Philippine was 12.3 and Malayan Banking Berhad was 11.5.

The Colombo Stock Exchange had ended the year with a price to earnings multiple of 11.6.

FC Research Assistant Manager Atchuthan Srirangan said with the government removing the Nation Building Tax and the Debt Repayment Levy, net profits at banks will rise 9 percent.

The government has also announced bank income tax will fall to 24 percent from 28 percent.

With a bullish view on banking stock Srirangan said banks with high capital and a digitization edge will outperform the sector, as digital banking growth has outpaced traditional transactions at brick and mortar branches.

Profits at banks which fell 4 percent in 2019 with constrained capital and rising bad loans, will grow at a compounded 19 percent up to 2021, he said.

Return on equity is expected to rise to 12 percent in 2021, First Capital has estimated, from 10 percent in 2019.

Credit growth is expected to pick up in the latter half of 2020 and early 2021, while bad loans will moderate with higher economic growth and the breathing room borrowers receive from loan moratoriums, he said.

Meanwhile, the capital constraints on banks will ease, as many have raised equity during the year, while larger banks such as Sampath, HNB, Seylan and NDB will face lower capital requirements due to the D-SIB rule change, which will give them room to expand, Perera said.

Annual private credit growth, which had fallen to 4.5 percent in 2019, would rise to 14 percent in 2020 and 2021 amid a low interest environment, Srirangan said.

Some banks are trading a low prices partly due to selling pressure from foreign investors.

Sri Lanka however lacks monetary stability, with a highly unstable soft-peg analysts have said.

In 2018 a credit and recovery from a previous currency crisis was broken by rates cuts and liquidity injections which triggered a new currency collapse and output shock, analysts who track monetary policy errors have said.

Sri Lanka has cut not only income taxes but also value added tax, and the budget deficit is expected to go above 7.5 percent of gross domestic product this year. (Colombo/Feb18/2020 – Update II)

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