According to news circulating in local media, the banking sector may experience another wave of consolidation as there have been rumours that some Tier 1 banks may be acquiring smaller banks. Last week, there was a publication by the Independent Newspaper about First Bank acquiring Polaris (previously Skye bank) and Heritage Bank.
First Bank in response, while not affirming nor debunking the news report, stated that it continued to scan Sub-Saharan Africa for potential acquisitions and would make appropriate disclosures should it find such value. In a similar vein, there were talks over the weekend that Zenith Bank might be set to acquire Union Bank. As of the time of writing, there has been no official communication from Zenith Bank.
We recall that in June 2019, the CBN Governor revealed during the unveiling of his economic agenda for the next five years that the devaluation in the local currency had weakened the capital of banks, making the apex bank to consider fresh capital requirements for Nigerian banks. Although the CBN Governor did not provide a timeline on when the new capital requirements would be rolled out, we suspect this may happen soon.
The last recapitalisation exercise in the banking industry was in 2005 when the apex bank raised the capital base of banks from N2 billion to N25 billion. Since then, there has been the sale of two of the CBN acquired banks and the Access and Diamond merger. The banking sector remains highly concentrated with the Concentration Ratio (CR) of the six largest banks with respect to deposits and assets at 60.31 and 59.74% as at end December 2018 according to the CBN’s 2018 financial stability report.
According to the banking industry stress test conducted in 2018 by the CBN and published in its financial stability report released in 2019, the banking industry could withstand a shock of up to 75% increase in the industry NPLs as the CAR remained above 10%.
The baseline capital adequacy ratio (CAR) for the banking industry at end-December 2018 was 15.26% while the NPL ratio was 11.64%. In terms of credit concentration risk, the report showed that the oil and gas sector accounted for 30.29% of total industry loans and that the banking industry could withstand up to 50% default in Oil and gas loans as the post-shock CAR remained at 10.24%.
Considering that crude oil prices are down c.50% from US$68.91/b at the start of the year due to the dual impact of COVID-19 and fallout of OPEC+ agreement, we believe oil trading at this levels for a prolonged period poses a great threat to asset quality and in turn the health of the banking sector with the smaller banks at greater risk in our view.
While the rumour mill has it that many banks are not freely deciding on a merger or freely choosing banks they can merge with, we believe a consolidation exercise well-conducted should allow players freely lookout for acquisition targets that can provide needed synergy. In our opinion, this would help in strengthening the resilience of the banking sector, enhance the ability of the players in withstanding stress and laying a more solid foundation for financial stability.