Ranking Eurasia's banks

By bne IntelliNews November 27, 2009

bne -

There were a lot of changes on bne's annual bank ranking list for the Eurasia region this year. Many banks moved up the list - though those that improved their position mostly did so simply because they did less badly than their peers.

The pain the sector has suffered from the financial crisis is most clearly seen in the pdf attached to this special report (click 'Special Reports Archive' by the Special Report section on the homepage) and the pdf accompanies the full if you compare the total assets for the top 200 banks in the region with last year's survey; total assets have fallen from just over $1 trillion in September of 2008 more than 10-fold to just $86.5bn as of September this year.

Pretty much the only banks to actually increase their assets over the last year were the four big Russian state-owned banks, which benefited from government rescue cash pumped into the financial system. However, state-owned banks across the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) all enjoyed injections of cash from their governments and state banks are now playing a more important role in the financial sectors across the region as a result of the crisis.

The biggest Russian state-owned banks maintain their lead in the CIS banking sector. Sberbank is still way out in front and its assets were almost unaffected by the crisis, falling only slightly from $223.6bn to $223.5bn. Russia's other biggie, VTB Bank, is still trailing a distant second, managing to increase its assets from $75.5bn to $91.7bn. Indeed, all four of the Russian state-owned banks in the top five managed to increase their assets.

The foreign banks in Russia all more or less maintained their place in the ranking, but assets were down in almost all by about a quarter.

Out of Russia's commercial banks, Alfa Bank has been the big winner, taking back its title as Russia's largest commercial bank and suffering only a modest drop in assets to $22.1bn. Alfa's strategy since Alex Knaster was put in charge has been to assume that a crisis was around the corner.

Kazakh kaboom

The most noticeable change in the ranking is the absence of the Kazakh banks from the top of the list. BTA Bank was the largest commercial bank in the CIS and fifth largest bank in the region in September 2008. But the beleaguered bank's assets have tumbled from $26.4bn back then to an eye-watering $2.3bn now, sending it down to a lowly 50th place on the list. Kazakhstan's biggest bank is now Kazkommertsbank and although it has escaped nationalisation and is in much healthier shape than BTA, it was almost as badly hurt, suffering the same 10-fold fall in assets from $23bn to $2.5bn.

However, the biggest winners in the region have been the Belarusian banks, which all marched firmly up the list, underscoring the slow opening up of the economy that has been quietly going on in the one-time pariah state over the last year. Belarusbank remains the biggest by far and raised its assets from $8bn to $11.6bn, moving up from 23rd to 14th place in the ranking as a result. This shouldn't be a surprise, as in each country of the CIS the state's reaction to the crisis has been to concentrate assets in the state banks from where it is easier to coordinate rescue operations. However, in Belarus all the state banks moved up the ranking noticeably, with the Austrian-owned private lender Prior Bank being the only one that fell.

International Bank of Azerbaijan remains by far the largest bank in the Caucasus and improved its ranking from 42nd last year to 32nd this year - more by dint of suffering less than the average, as its assets fell from $5.2bn to $4.1bn over the year. And its closest rival, London-listed Bank of Georgia, was similarly hurt, with assets falling by about a quarter to $1.5bn over the same period.

The biggest loser was the first big victim of the crisis, Kit Finance. This bank was on course to become the first Russian commercial bank to IPO this time last year, but nearly folded in the maelstrom of September 2008. Since then, it has plummeted down the rankings from 43rd place to 77th now after its assets shrank from $5bn to $1.4bn. Surprisingly, it is still in the game and remains a serious player in the Russian banking sector.

Citibank is the highest placed bank on the list from outside the CIS. It actually moved up from 30th to 21st this year, but managed this feat just by losing less ground than the others, its assets falling modestly from $6.8bn last year to $6.5bn this year. Societe Generale Vostok was more typical, moving only one place on the ranking from 36th to 35th, but seeing its assets almost halve from $6.4bn to $3.6bn. Most of the other foreign banks tell a similar story.

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