Singapore banks – Net interest margins (NIM)

Much fanfare has been thrown on banks’ net interest margin (NIM) as the impending interest rates hike seemed to gain traction. As it is, our interest rate lags behind the US interest rates, and it is only a matter of time that our interest rates go upwards as well. As banks are in the business of lending, it is natural that the banks are the likely beneficiaries of interest rate hikes. This leads to an active interest in the bank shares in Q4 2014. The share price of the local bank, namely, DBS, OCBC and UOB were up between 7.4% and 11.8%.


Predictably, in the months that followed, the 3-month SIBOR were increasing. In March 2015, the 3-month SIBOR hit 0.9% and then 1.02% in April 2015. However, as of 29 May 2015, the last trading day of May 2015, the 3-month SIBOR was only at 0.83%. Even though the quarterly financial results of our banks showed significant increase both on y-o-y and q-o-q bases, the NIM were actually quite disappointing for DBS and OCBC. OCBC’s NIM reduced by 5bp on q-o-q and 8bp on y-o-y. DBS’s NIM increased by 3bp y-o-y, but dropped by 2bp q-o-q. This bagged a question whether the interest rate hike is really gaining traction, or it is too early to tell.

Here are the possible outcomes with the interest rate hikes:

a.   The existing borrowers of bank loans such as the business and individual borrowers are subject to higher loan rates, which effectively benefit the banks. It is possible that these borrowers look for alternative sources of funds, but sources are limited as general interest rate environment increases.

b.   New borrowers have less propensity to borrow, as the interest payments become more costly. There may also be some pockets of borrowers who decide cash out their assets or to sell out other assets to pay off their loans, thus causing a net decrease in borrowing. There may even be possible that some cash-rich borrowers decide to reduce their cash holdings to redeem their loans.

c.   The impending interest rate hike may put off borrowings of some ‘marginal borowers’, thus causing the banks’s net borrowing to decrease. This may have resulted in the decrease in the 3-month SIBOR. However, it may be too early to tell at this moment.

d.   The interest hike may result in more non-performance loans (NPL) which negate the benefits of the interest rate hike for the banks.

The valuation of DBS is included in the latest book – “Building Wealth Together Through Stocks”. The methodology can be read across to other banks. 

(Brennen Pak has been a stock investor for more than 25 years. He is the Principal Trainer of BP Wealth Learning Centre LLP. He is the author of the book “Building Wealth Together Through Stocks.”) – The ebook version may be purchased via