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Russian banks face cost from crunch

10 Сентября 2007

Источник: The Financial Times Limited
Дата: 10.09.2007

When Russian prosecutors last month ordered the country’s top consumer lender, Russian Standard Bank, to stop charging double-digit commissions following customer complaints, the apparent crackdown could not have come at a worse time.Russia’s banking system was in the throes of a mini-liquidity crisis as foreign investors fled Russian rouble markets amid the global flight to quality.

The central bank had to intervene to inject liquidity in to the system during a peak period of tax payments late last month.
The Russian market has since calmed down, but Russia’s rapidly growing consumer lenders could still face fall-out from the global credit crunch, as they seek refinancing for the heavy borrowing on international credit markets that has funded Russia’s consumer boom, analysts and bankers say.
»Whenever we see excessive growth in consumer lending, problems are not far away,« Hans J?rg Rudloff, chairman of Barclays Capital, told the Financial Times. »They lend excessively and therefore they have to borrow excessively.

»This is a credit-driven consumer boom, which can go quickly wrong when the external situation changes.«

International borrowing by Russian banks more than doubled in the year to April 2007 to reach $110bn. Even though total foreign borrowing stands at only 15 per cent of combined liabilities, some privately owned consumer lenders, such as Russian Standard Bank and Home Credit and Finance, have raised a far greater proportion from overseas.

Russian Standard Bank, the consumer lender founded by Russia’s credit and vodka magnate Roustam Tariko, has led the country’s surge in consumer lending in recent years. With more than 20m clients, the bank has won 75 per cent of the country’s credit card market, issuing 15,000 to 20,000 cards per day [in periods of peak demand it can issue 80,000 per day]. It has about 40 per cent of the consumer credit market, extending about $12m in loans every day, according to Dmitry Levin, Russian Standard Bank chief executive.

As the bank’s management hedged against default risks by adding commissions on top of interest rates, the bank’s profits soared, climbing more than 140 per cent last year to $550m, according to the bank’s audited accounts.
But analysts and bankers warn that its business has depended almost exclusively on borrowings on international capital markets. More than 65 per cent of its total financing comes from international markets. Just 5 per cent of its financing currently comes from private deposits, although Mr Levin says the bank plans to increase this to 20-25 per cent by 2011.

In the meantime, however, »the profitability of the model depends on them being able to constantly borrow on international markets«, says Richard Hainsworth, head of Moscow ratings agency Rusrating, which is currently fighting a libel suit filed against it by the bank after one of its analysts warned in a magazine interview about the increasing risks.
The central bank has been watching closely too. At a banking conference last month, Gennady Melikyan, the central bank’s top supervisor, warned that some Russian banks »have stuffed their vaults to the maximum with loans in foreign currencies«.

Mr Melikyan added that if the dollar continued to strengthen against the rouble »they could face certain difficulties«.

Russian Standard Bank has to pay down about $300m in Eurobonds this month, although it says it has no other big payments expected this year.

It is still seeking to issue up to $750m in mortgage-backed and car loan-backed securities later this year, according to Mr Levin, who insists that investor interest is strong.
In the meantime, Mr Levin says that the bank has staggered its debt payments so as to minimise the risks while hoarding extra resources to guard against a credit crunch.
»Because of our high profitability this year, our capital adequacy ratio right now is 23 per cent,« he said.