Monday, 4 August 2014

Private External Debt and Financial Stability

Recently, there is a growing concern on the news about the ballooning private debt in Indonesia. As of April 2014, Indonesia’s private external debt has reached USD 145.6 billion, exceeding its public external debt amounting USD 131 billion. In terms of growth, it exhibits 12.9% year-on-year growth, higher than 12.2% and 11.6% in March and February, respectively.

The mounting private external debt also increases Debt-to-Service Ratio (an indicator to determine a borrower’s ability to repay its debts), which stood at 46.3% in Q1 2014, higher than 36.8% in Q1 2013.

There are several reasons that cause the ballooning external private debts. First, some companies prefer to obtain external debts due to the cheaper costs since credits in US dollar incur relatively lower interest rates compared to Rupiah. In addition, some firms also usually hedge their external loans to avoid currency volatility risk. As a consequence, these firms could carry out their business plans more efficiently.

Second, Indonesian banking sector’s Loan-to-Deposit Ratio (LDR) has also surpassed 90%, indicating strong demand for local credit. If the ratio is getting closer to 100%, it means that banks already maximize its intermediary function by extending all of their deposits to loans. In other words, current condition shows that local banks capability, particularly medium- and small-sized ones, to extend credits becomes more limited.

Third, subsidiaries from international corporations residing in Indonesia usually have easier access to obtain parent loans or inter-group loans since they offer relatively cheaper interest rates and less rigid terms and conditions. Therefore, these companies usually use this kind of facility during its early establishment or business expansion.

Fundamentally, the utilization of external debt to finance a firm’s business is totally acceptable. However, it could create a problem if it is not utilized properly. Bappenas (2004) points out three main problems associated with the utilization of external debt: 1) maturity gap, 2) currency mismatch, and 3) non-existent of currency hedging.

First, if a firm obtains short-term debt to finance long-term project, then it will experience maturity gap since its it will incur cash outflows in the short-term to repay its debt, while its cash inflows from the project will come in the long-term, resulting in liquidity problem and difficulty to repay the loan.
Another potential problem is currency mismatch. This problem happens when a firm’s revenues and reporting currency are denominated in rupiah, while it obtains loans in foreign currencies. If rupiah becomes more volatile and tends to depreciate against foreign currencies, then its loan’s current value will soar, undermining leveraging performance.

This issue can be exacerbated further if a firm does not have any currency hedging such as currency swap facility. If a firm does not have hedging facility and depends on external debts as its financing source, then, when rupiah depreciates, its interest expenses will grow since it has to pay in dollar against its rupiah income. As a consequence, its profitability will be impaired and overall business performance will deteriorate.

When this happen at bigger scale, this issue can create a systemic risk. Defaulting firms could disturb financial stability, particularly if they also have loans in local banks. These firms will be unable to pay the loans that they owe to local banks, including those denominated in rupiah. As a consequence, they could disrupt banks’ solvency.

In addition to firm-level problems, external debt can also pose a threat at macro-level. When external debts level becomes too high, their repayments will result in capital outflows, pressuring Indonesia’s Balance of Payments and triggering rupiah volatility.

Looking at current condition, many still believe that Indonesia’s private external debt condition is still within an acceptable level despite showing an increasing trend. Even though it has not created a serious threat yet, serious actions have to be taken by both authorities and firms.

In one hand, related authorities should closely monitor the movements of private debt. More actions can also be taken, such as preparing stress-testing analyses to project the possible outcome of various levels of private external debts in order to formulate the anticipation measures.

On the other hand, firms also have to be aware of their own business conditions. Even though business growth is important, carefulness and prudence are also crucial for business to create a more sustainable growth. Several actions can be taken to minimize the risks caused by the spiking external debt. A way to do this is by carefully examine its project and the type of loan that should be used to finance the project to prevent any currency mismatch or maturity gap. Another possible method is by utilizing hedging facilities such as interest swap or currency swap in order to minimize market risk.

Arisyi Fariza Raz

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