South Korea's financial regulator said Monday it will assess the financial conditions of local savings banks to determine whether to pump public funds into viable players in an effort to prop up the ailing sector.
South Korea has been grappling with salvaging the troubled sector as savings banks have been suffering from deteriorating asset quality due to soured construction loans. The delinquency rate of property-linked loans stood at 20.4 percent as of the end of March, up from 18 percent late last year.
"In a bid to help ease market worries over savings banks, financial regulators will try to get the lowdown on the actual situation by examining their businesses and inducing their self-rescue efforts," Financial Services Commission (FSC) Chairman Kim Seok-dong said in a press briefing.
"The plans are expected to create a healthy base for the savings bank sector's growth and reduce market worries," said Kim.
The FSC said it will launch an inspection of 85 savings banks in July and August, which will focus on their capital adequacy ratios stipulated by the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) standards.
Among the banks whose capital adequacy ratios stand above 5 percent and are expected to maintain normal operation, those who wish will be eligible to receive public funds to bolster their assets. It will be the first time the government is injecting public funds into normally operating financial institutions for capital expansion.
The FSC said it plans to release additional measures for banks whose BIS ratios stand below 5 percent, adding that business suspensions are unlikely to be imposed until inspection results are announced in late September. Savings banks with capital adequacy ratios below 5 percent will be requested to receive regulatory advice.
Savings banks whose BIS ratios stand between 3-5 percent will be given up to six months for normalization, while those with BIS ratios of 1-3 percent will be granted up to one year for such efforts.
Meanwhile, savings banks whose BIS ratio comes below 1 percent will be requested to submit plans for normalization. If their plans are approved, the respective savings banks will be given a three-month period for normalization, said the FSC.
The FSC also said it plans to step up support for savings banks customers by easing rules on deposit withdrawal. Customers were previously allowed to withdraw their holdings two weeks after suspension, but the new plan advances this period to four days after suspension.
The country's financial regulators have been stepping up efforts to prop up the struggling sector. They have already agreed to inject 1.4 trillion won (US$1.3 billion) to buy up savings banks' bad property project finance loans and extend the maturity of these loans by up to two years.
The government is also seeking to sell seven troubled savings banks, including top player Busan Savings Bank, whose operations have been suspended since January. It has already sold one suspended savings bank to state-run Woori Finance Holdings Co., the country's No. 2 banking group.