By Matthias Chang
Unprecedented, Never-Before Financial Scandal !!Why has Bank Negara been keeping quiet all this while?
It is often said that the best time to announce bad news is just before the weekend or public holidays.
So it came as no surprise that CIMB Group Holdings Bhd (the country’s second largest financial group) decided to drop the bombshell that they have on their books a whopping RM 8.4 billion non-performing loans (NPLs) knowing that it will be a long weekend following tomorrow’s public holiday – Hari Raya Haji! How very clever.
But this scandal will not go away, that’s for sure!
This amount of NPL is historic and unprecedented in the Malaysian banking industry.
The New Straits Times reported that a special asset management vehicle will be set up to acquire the said NPLs – the Southeast Asia Special Asset Management Bhd which will be wholly owned by the group.
These NPLs represent 45,000 accounts which have been written down to RM 928 million net book value!
Why this announcement now?
These NPLs must have been in the bank’s balance sheet for quite some time. Recall that way back in early 2008, I had warned that Malaysian banks are in deep shits following the global financial tsunami, but the authorities, namely Bank Negara (Central Bank) and the Ministry of Finance denied that such was the state of health of our banks and declared that everything was under control and that NPLs were within tolerable limits.
It was gross misrepresentation. It was also irresponsible.
If CIMB is in such deep shits, expect other government controlled banks to be in a similar situation.
The decision of CIMB to park the NPLs in a special vehicle wholly owned by the group has not resolved the problem, as what this means is that the toxic waste has been transferred from the right pocket to the left pocket and by this sleight of hand, the bank is now deemed healthy!
If you believe this fairy tale, you might as well cease to be an investor and or trader in bank stocks!
But what is more frightening is that these NPLs’ net book value is a mere RM 928 million.
We can only draw one conclusion – these 45,000 accounts are not your ordinary loans to consumers (consumer banking) or small business loans (SME loans) because if it was so, there would be adequate securities in the form of landed properties (i.e. charges/mortgages) and or debentures.
I stand to be corrected, but these must be loans for “trading” either for the stock market or investments in debt instruments. Even if it is not and whatever may be the case, this huge black-hole is a scandal and the management must be brought to account for this sordid state of affairs. Heads must roll. CIMB is a GLC (government linked company) and therefore taxpayers’ monies are at stake.
The timing of this announcement, in the last quarter of 2009 is also significant. If as I had expected that the first quarter of 2010 leading to the 2nd quarter will be the start of the 2nd wave of the Global Financial Tsunami, then this tactical move by CIMB Bank is a pre-emptive move to cushion the inevitable fallout.
The Governor of Bank Negara must give a public explanation as to how she has allowed and or tolerated such a state of affairs and why no remedial actions were taken earlier. CIMB Group Holdings Bhd is the country’s second largest financial services provider and for this to happen at such a critical time is mind-boggling.
One cannot but conclude that whatever reforms and or so-called measures to ensure the continued good health of our banks are all talk, more talk and nothing else.
This issue must be debated in Parliament.
Bank Negara is the watch-dog of the banking industry. It is about time we have a watch-dog to oversee the watch-dog!