The HDFC Bank-HDFC Merger Signals The End Of The Golden Age

  • April 7, 2022, 11:28 a.m.

HDFC Bank reported a return on assets of 2.3% last quarter and earnings growth of over 18%. These are numbers that should make analysts and investors salivate, internationally, even an RoA of 1.25% is considered very good.

Yet, the price to book value ratio of HDFC Bank was just 2.3 before the recently announced merger with HDFC, way below the multiples that the bank commanded at lower returns. The stock has underperformed the index over the past year.

Why so? Clearly, investors did not think that HDFC Bank could sustain high earnings growth.

Legacy Limitations

One reason surely was the bank’s low exposure to home loans: these constitute only 11% of HDFC Bank’s portfolio. A reasonable share of home loans in the overall portfolio of a private bank would be 25%. Post the merger, management expects home loans will constitute 33% of the overall book.

Right since the bank’s inception, not being able to have adequate home loans in its book has been an issue for HDFC Bank. The bank had the distribution capability but could not have its own home loan book because that would mean competing with its parent. This did not matter much in the initial years because there was enough scope to grow through other products.

A few years down the road, HDFC Bank entered into an arrangement whereby the bank would sell HDFC’s home loans for a fee. It would also have the right to acquire 70% of the home loans it had distributed as mortgage-backed securities. These securities would have the yield of home loans minus a servicing charge for HDFC

No Longer Crowded At The Top

Analysts could see this clearly. So they would keep asking Aditya Puri, the former CEO of HDFC Bank, when the bank would do the obvious thing, namely, merge with HDFC. If memory serves correctly, Puri had to tell analysts that this was the one question he didn’t want to hear anymore! Puri told analysts that the merger would happen when the timing was right.

The timing was never right in Aditya Puri’s time because there was no way that he would settle for a position that was less than that of the CEO. It would have been difficult for the parent’s top brass to settle for less either. There is little doubt, therefore, that the personality issue came in the way of the logical thing for HDFC Bank, namely, a merger. The argument that interest rates have declined, so the cost for HDFC of complying with statutory liquidity ratio requirements is less onerous is correct. But high interest rates were not the principal hurdle to the merger.

With HDFC’s Vice Chairman Keki Mistry and Managing Director Renu Karnad both in their late sixties, there is no difficulty in them making way for the relatively youthful CEO of HDFC Bank, Sashidhar Jagdishan.

Finding Mutual Benefits

Without its own home loans, growth in recent years at HDFC Bank has come from MSMEs and the unsecured book. These are high-yield products, but risky. Home loans have a lower yield but serve the purpose of lowering overall portfolio risk. Investors would prefer a bank whose growth was driven by the latter.

For HDFC, there was no problem in sustaining growth in the loan book because the potential for home loan growth remains huge in India’s under-penetrated market. The problem was being able to sustain its current margins in the face of tighter regulations.

Non-banking finance companies have the disadvantage of not having access to low-cost savings and current accounts. They had advantages. A big one was not being encumbered by the liquidity and priority sector obligations that banks face. This is what is called "regulatory arbitrage."

In October 2021, the RBI moved towards bringing regulatory norms for the larger NBFCs broadly into line with those for banks. In particular, the liquidity requirements for larger NBFCs were made the same as for banks with effect from 2025. The RBI’s intent is clear: the larger NBFCs must convert into banks.

The larger the NBFC, the greater its dependence on bank borrowings. Large NBFCs are thus a source of systemic risk. It is better, then, that they submit themselves to the tighter regulation that applies to banks.


There was no way that HDFC could have kept growing without considerable pressure on its margins. The answer was to access the low-cost funds available to HDFC Bank.

A Successful Merger Isn’t Easy.

Mergers are touted as great strategic coups. Markets fall for this line and respond by boosting the stock prices of the two entities involved after the announcement. This has happened with the HDFC Bank-HDFC merger as well. For that reason, CEOs love mergers.

As our analysis shows, the HDFC Bank-HDFC merger is no exception. Mergers are expected to reward investors through synergies and cost savings.

A large proportion of mergers—in some sectors and economies, the majority—fail, and are unable to enhance the combined shareholder value of the two erstwhile entities. This is because the supposed benefits are overwhelmed by the complexity of having to manage a larger entity. Every merger, thus, represents the triumph of hope over experience. Every CEO hopes that his adventure will belong to the successful minority.

What about the HDFC Bank-HDFC merger? The two entities belong to the same family. HDFC’s employees are a small fraction of that of the bank, but there is still the task of integrating the senior management of HDFC and resolving issues of who reports to whom.

Analysts talk about the benefits of scale. But these economies kick in at a much lower scale than that of the behemoth that will be created in the present merger. Beyond a certain scale, there is little to be gained.

Then, there is the potential for cross-selling. HDFC Bank can certainly push home loans in a bigger way to its customer base than before. Selling deposits from HDFC Bank to HDFC’s customer base is a more challenging proposition. HDFC’s customers would have their own banking relationships, and switching from one bank to another is not an easy task. Had it been easy, HDFC could have sold the bank’s deposit products all these years and collected a fee from the bank.

What The Future Holds

The merger is to be completed in 2024. The presumed benefits will happen in the years thereafter. The banking landscape then is unlikely to be the same. The newly consolidated public sector banks will have gotten their acts together by then and may pose stiffer competition on both the liability and asset side. Some of the NBFCs promoted by industrial houses may get the nod to convert into banks. Who knows what other changes are in store? The gains from the merger are thus subject to considerable uncertainty.

It is not clear whether the RBI will allow HDFC Bank to directly hold the numerous subsidiaries of the merged entity. If the RBI insists on a holding company structure, that too will impose costs and returns will fall.

In short, the merger is the answer to the slower earnings growth faced by the two entities. We will have a giant that can be expected to do better than either entity would have done sans the merger. However, it is unlikely that the glorious past of either entity can be recaptured. It does appear that the halcyon days of the HDFC twins are over.

Author : Rajdhani Delhi Representative

Rajdhani delhi representative

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