EghtesadOnline: Banks and credit institutions have sold property and non-financial assets worth 150 trillion rials ($1.1 billion) since the beginning of current fiscal year in March 2019, said an official with the Economy Ministry.
Abbas Memarnejad, deputy minister for banking, insurance and state companies' affairs, said the lenders are supposed to sell 400 trillion rials ($3 billion) of their properties by next March, Financial Tribune reported.
Pointing to the variety of assets, Memarnejad said the assets include real estate, manufacturing units, and shares that will be divested as per regulations pertaining to each asset, ILNA reported.
Skittish lenders are under mounting government pressure to end their non-banking businesses by getting rid of expensive real estate and surplus holdings.
Memarnejad put the total value of banks’ non-financial assets at 1,000 trillion rials ($7.5 billion), recalling rules that oblige lenders to divest their non-productive holdings.
According to the official, the Central Bank of Iran monitors and oversees the divestiture process and those who fail to comply will be prosecuted.
The extra assets have piled up mainly due to impaired loans, bad debts, settlement of government debts to banks, closure of branches and failed investments.
Despite calls for action from many quarters to end non-bank activities, it appears that many lenders have trouble finding customers for their property, mainly in expensive uptown areas in big cities.
The Ministry of Economy recently launched an online auction mechanism to facilitate sale of banks’ properties. It logs data on lenders’ property valued at 170 trillion rials ($1.3 billion). This, however, does not cover the surplus assets of all banks.
Assets on offer include 1,246 factories and 277 animal husbandry companies. The deputy minister noted that “revenues from all divestitures will go to banks and not to the treasury”.
Four banks, namely Bank Melli Iran, Mellat Bank, Agricultural Bank of Iran and Bank Saderat Iran, own almost 50% of the assets with the state-owned BMI topping the list with 14% of the total.
500 Branches Closed
Lenders have shut down or merged about 500 branches in the past nine months, Memarnejad said.
“All banks have a share in the number of shuttered branches,” the official said, pointing to a three-year plan based on which lenders have to downsize and close 10,000 branches.
The figure accounts for about 45% of the total 22,000 bank branches in Iran. Majority of the unwanted and underperforming branches belong to state-owned banks.
Based on data for the fiscal month to April 21, state-run banks and credit institutions had 9,930 branches by the end of second month of the current fiscal year that ends in March.
Bank Melli Iran with 3,315 branches is the largest lender, followed by the Agriculture Bank of Iran with 1,966, Bank Sepah 1,818 and Bank Maskan 1,272 branches.
The unusually high number of branches in Iran has came under mounting criticism by economists and government officials alike, giving rise to increasing calls for cutting the number of underperforming and costly branches that are economically unfeasible.
According to Memarnejad, the total number of bank branches need not exceed 12,000 based on indicators such as net domestic product, population and demographics.
Given the status of most distressed lenders that have piled up non-performing loans and largely curbed lending, experts say banks must avoid adding branches and instead focus on improving online banking and lending to manufacturers.