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Risk, Reward Balance ICICI Bank

Zacks Equity Research

We maintain our long-term ‘Neutral’ recommendation on ICICI Bank Ltd. (IBN), reflecting its stable fiscal first quarter (ended June 30) performance, which recorded a remarkable 36% year-over-year rise. Moreover, we expect synergies from the company’s reliance on domestic loans, stable funding base and leadership position in the insurance business. Nevertheless, the company’s highly competitive operating environment and rising operating expenses remain causes of concern.

ICICI Bank’s fiscal first quarter results benefited mainly from higher top line. Stable asset quality and strong capital ratios were the other positives. However, a significant jump in operating expenses marginally marred the results.

With domestic loans representing a major portion of ICICI Bank’s loan portfolio, the company is less likely to be affected by the sluggish international economic environment. The company has been marketing retail deposits on a large scale, mainly to bring down the cost of funds and create a stable funding base. All these factors will enable it to efficiently deal with the challenging economic scenario.

Further, ICICI Bank is expanding overseas by offering technology-based banking services and opening additional offshore branches. The primary areas of focus for the company include amassing a solid retail deposit base, building a global syndication network and achieving top-tier status for overseas acquisitions of Indian corporate accounts. Moreover, the company has been improving its services for offshore banking units via foreign currency deposits.

On the flip-side, ICICI Bank has been expanding its branch network for quite some time, which is resulting in higher operating costs. Higher operating expenses will likely drag down its financials over the near term. In addition, the company is expected to face higher expenses due to the probable rise in inflation rate as well as the recent ratings and outlook downgrades by Moody’s, a ratings arm of Moody's Corp. (MCO), S&P and Fitch Ratings.

In addition, though ICICI Bank has been witnessing a continuous improvement in asset quality, we anticipate near-term pressure on its asset quality. This is primarily due to the company’s increased proportion of higher margin (and higher risk) unsecured loans in its portfolio mix.

Currently, ICICI Bank retains its Zacks #3 Rank, which translates into a short-term Hold rating.

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