Hungarian central bank foundations to build refuge for bankers fleeing Brexit

By bne IntelliNews September 5, 2016

The controversial foundations run by the Magyar Nemzeti Bank (MNB) have acquired three plots in Budapest for HUF17bn (€54.96mn), and plan to build a large office complex to house bankers fleeing Brexit, local press reported on September 5.

The central bank has come under huge pressure this year over the use of millions of euro of public money by the six foundations it runs. The move into real estate development appears to be in line with the MNB’s earlier guidance that it would restructure the investment portfolio of the foundations following repeated criticism from the European Central Bank (ECB) over the high level of investment in sovereign debt, no matter how ambitious the strategy may be to attract financial companies that could leave the UK should it exit the EU prove.

In June, the foundations held around HUF200bn in government bonds and HUF24.5bn in real estate, and pledged to start purchasing proprety instead before the end of this year. Earlier this summer, the foundations had invested HUF25mn in four real estate properties, including three buildings in Budapest and one in Debrecen.

The foundations’ latest real estate purchase, a 7.5-hectare plot on Vaci ut, Budapest, is suitable for the construction of more than 200,000 square meters of office, commercial or residential space.

"This could be one of the largest property development projects of Budapest,” Zoltan Fekete, the CEO of Pallas Athene Domus Optima Zrt – the asset management company that runs the foundations – told Vilaggazdasag. Fekete claims that the foundations aim to attract financial companies from the UK to set up new headquarters in Budapest following Brexit.

Hungary is just one of several European states that have thrown their hats in the ring to take over should Brexit force the banks to abandon London as their European headquarters for global business. However, Budapest will have it work cut out in competing with well estabished continential financial centres such as Frankfurt and Paris, while even Warsaw would appear to hold several advantages.

The central bank’s six charitable foundations – which earlier this year were mired in a scandal over their spending and investments in Tesla and Netflix bonds - received HUF245bn (€790mn) in 2014 from the MNB, officially to promote financial literacy and conduct economic research. 

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