SURVEY: The dominant state of Russian banking

By bne IntelliNews November 29, 2011

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Given the tumultuous change taking place in the global financial system, it's perhaps surprising how little appears to have changed in this year's bne Eurasian bank survey. Look closer, though, and big shifts are underway.

Like last year, the size of banks has grown marginally (see accompanying pdf for the complete table), but still at nothing like the blistering pace seen in the earlier part of the previous decade when Russian banks, for example, grew at 40-50% in the glory years of 2005-2008. Since the financial crisis first struck in 2008, we have clearly entered a phase of lower growth for some years to come, with the sector growing at only about 15%.

Needless to say, the list of the top 10 banks in the Eurasian region remains a Russian affair. Russian savings bank Sberbank leads, followed by the other state-influenced banks VTB, Gazprombank and the Russian Agricultural Bank.

The effect of recent M&A is making itself felt. Rosbank, in 18th place last year, has merged its way up to 9th spot on this year's list. Rosbank is the consolidation platform for French Societe Generale's Russian businesses such as Rus-Finance. CEO Vladimir Golubkov told newswires earlier this year that he's aiming for the bank to be among the top five Russian banks in assets and equity, right behind the state-owned lenders.

VTB Group now has three subsidiaries in the top 10 after coming to the rescue of Bank of Moscow (BoM) earlier this year with a $5bn bailout. VTB Bank consolidated control of 75% over BoM in September. After a complex takeover due to the previous management's misrule, VTB believes it has a gem on its hands. "The branch network and the municipal accounts would both be extremely difficult to reproduce in a competitor bank. In this sense, the BoM's business is unique," Herbert Moos, chief financial officer of VTB, told bne in an exclusive interview.

Russian banks too have risen up the ranking at the expense of many of their Eurasian counterparts. Belarusian and Kazakh banks have all fallen down the ranking in general.

The Belarusian banks have been hit by the escalating economic problems of the country. Belarusbank has fallen to 15th spot from 12th last year and Belagroprombank is down to 29th place from 25th. The Belarusian ruble has lost two-thirds of its value this year as a result of a balance-of-payments crisis sparked by massive state spending to keep the economy afloat. The central bank raised its refinancing rate to 40% from 35% in November in the 11th increase this year. Meanwhile, annual inflation hit 92% in October.

Kazakh banks too fell slightly again this year, though analysts say that apart from BTA Bank, Kazakhstan's banking sector is in much better shape than it was three years ago and has proved remarkably resilient so far to the Eurozone crisis. The elephant in the room is, of course, BTA, which announced huge losses of KZT102.6bn ($693m) - considerably higher than expected - for the first half of 2011, prompting concerns that unless it gets additional help from its majority shareholder, Kazakhstan's sovereign wealth fund Samruk-Kazyna, it could collapse.

Ukraine's banking sector may be coming apart at the seams, but many of its banks have actually risen in this year's list, most notably Privatbank, which reached 11th spot from 17th last year, Oschadbank, which rose to 21st place from 29th, and VTB's subsidiary, which rose five places to 45th. Many Ukrainian banks also managed to increase their assets, surprisingly given the country's problems, with Privatbank's growing $4.5bn and Oschadbank's growing $1.9bn.

Azerbaijan's sector has also benefited from its relatively conservative banking culture within a sound regulatory framework, coupled with the stable economy that's supported by rising oil and gas exports. The country now has five banks in the top 200 - International Bank of Azerbaijan, Kapital Bank, Xalq Bank, Texnikabank and PASHA Bank - most of which have grown substantially over the year. Texnikabank rose from 198th spot to 183rd, Kapital Bank rose from 158th spot to 122nd, and Xalq Bank rose from 187th to 160th.

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