Category Archives: Russian banks

23/2/16: Moody’s on Russian Banks & Ruble

A recent Moody's report on Russian banks makes an interesting point, linking capital buffers in the banking system to ruble valuations

Per Moody's: "We expect Russian banks' capital ratios and loan performance to bear the brunt of the country's falling currency and economic contraction. We also envisage a detrimental impact on bank profitability as rising problem loans will likely lead to higher loan-loss provisioning expenses for banks."

The rouble dropped a further 3% in January 2016, after falling 23% versus the dollar in the second half of 2015. At the same time, the Russian economy contracted by 4% real GDP for 2015 and Moody's forecasts further GDP contraction of at least 2% in 2016.

By Moody's estimate, "close to a third of the banking sector's loan book is denominated in foreign currency and the falling rouble will likely inflate the value of these loans in the calculation of risk-weighted assets (the denominator of the capital ratio) pushing it higher and, consequently, capital ratios lower. Without accounting for additional loan growth, a 10% rouble devaluation could lead to a 30 basis point negative impact on capital ratios..."

This is not as dramatic as the headline risks occupying Moody's, but material. Worse, this risk is coincident with the broader recessionary pressures on Russian banks. Thus, "Moody's expects the recession, with the added burden of currency depreciation, to lead to rising problem loans for Russia's banks. The rating agency estimates the stock of nonperforming and impaired loans in the banking system to rise to 14%-16% over the next 12 months, from an estimated 11% as of year-end 2015."

The third coincident factor is the Central Bank policy space: "Currency depreciation may also prevent the Central Bank of Russia from lowering its key interest rates (currently at 11%), which sets the benchmark and influences the rates which banks pay for customer deposits and the rates at which they borrow on the interbank market."

Final pressure point for the banks is deposits composition "...if corporate and retail depositors decide to protect themselves from the falling currency and switch to FX deposits. Trends so far show rouble deposits stagnating while FX deposits have increased. The percentage of FX deposits to total deposits rose to 39% as at end of December 2015, compared to 29% as at end of March 2014."

March-December comparative is significant, as it sheds some light on longer term trends beyond December 2014 - March 2015 period when forex deposits of major corporates were driven down on the foot of Moscow urging de-dollarization of the deposits base, reducing cash reserves held in forex to January 2015 levels.

10/1/16: Russian Banks: Licenses Cancellations Galore

Why Russian Central Bank’s chief Elvira Nabiullina deserves title of the best central banker she got in 2015? Why, because she sticks to her stated objectives and goes on even in challenging conditions.

When Nabiullina came to office, Russian banking system was besieged by underperforming and weak banks - mostly at the bottom of banking sector rankings, but with some at the very top too (see ongoing VEB saga here And she promised a thorough clean up of the sector. I wrote about that before (see and

But times have been tough for such reforms, amidst credit tightening, rising arrears and economic crisis. Again, majority of the problems are within the lower tier banks, but numbers of loss-making institutions has been climbing over 2015. January-November 2015 data shows that almost 30% of Russian banks are running operating losses and overdue loans have risen by nearly 50% to RUB2.63 trillion. Still, this constitutes less than 7 percent of total credit outstanding. Stressed (but not necessarily overdue) loans rose from 7 percent of total credit in January 2015 to 8 percent at the end of December 2015. Notably, both stressed and overdue loans numbers are surprisingly low. And on another positive side, bank’s own capital to assets ratio averaged 13 percent. The aggregate numbers conceal quite some variation within the banking sector, as noted by Bofit: “At the beginning of November, 129 banks had equity ratios below 12%. Large deficiencies in calculating the capital have come to light in several bank insolvencies.”

Amidst this toughening of trading conditions, CBR continued to push our weaker banks from the market. Over 2015, 93 banks lost their licenses, almost the same number as in 18 months prior with just 740 banks left trading the market as of December 2015. As the result, banking sector concentration rose, with 20 largest banks now holding 75 percent share of the market by assets. In January-October 2015, some 600,000 depositors in Russian banks were moved from banks losing licenses to functioning banks, per report here.

Chart from Bofit illustrates the trends in terms of banking licenses revoked:

Overall, this is good news. Russian banking system evolved - prior to 2009 - into a trilateral system of banks, including strong larger (universal) banks, medium-sized specialist and foreign banks with retail exposures, weak and sizeable fringe of smaller institutions, often linked to industrial holding companies. Aside from VEB - which officially is not a bank - larger banks are operating in tough conditions, but remain relatively robust. Smaller banks, however, having relied in previous years on higher risk consumer credit and holding, often, lower quality capital, have been impacted by the crisis and by the lack of liquidity. Shutting these operations down and consolidating the smaller banks' fringe is something that Russian needs anyway. 

23/12/15: Vnesheconombank: where things stay ugly

As reported by BOFIT, Russia’s 4th largest and state-owned Vnesheconombank  (VEB Group which technically is not a bank, but a development bank and an owner of a number of banks, so as such VEB is not subject to CBR supervision) requires estimated funding supports at EUR15–20 billion “to cover at least the next few years”.  Per Bloomberg, VEB has been seeking USD23 billion “to support long-term growth and pay off the upcoming loan” (data as of November 23). VEB total assets in Russia amount to ca EUR45 billion, which, per BOFIT, “would make VEB Russia’s fourth largest bank with holdings that correspond to about 4 % of the banking sector’s total assets”. Overall, VEB holds 2.8 trillion Rubles in loans assets and around 1 trillion Rubles in other assets.

To-date, VEB received EUR8 billion in deposits from the National Welfare Fund and about EUR500 million in other monies (most of which came from the Central Bank’s 2014 profits).

Per both, Bloomberg and BOFIT: VEB has been a major lender behind Sochi Winter Olympics 2014. New lending increased total loans held by the bank by some 25% in Ruble terms in 2013 before doubling loans in 2014. VEB started aggressive loans expansion in 2007 since when its assets base grew almost 10-fold. Over 2015, bank-held loans posted some serious deterioration in quality forcing bank to set aside significant reserves to cover potential losses. Per Reuters report, “S&P estimates some 500 billion roubles of VEB's loans were directed by the government and are therefore regarded as relatively risky. While the huge investments made in Sochi have generated public discussion in Russia, far less attention has been given to no less massive investments VEB made in Ukraine. "That's still on their books and they keep rolling those loans over. Of course it's only a question of time before they accept losses on those assets," said S&P's Vartapetov. In an interview in December 2013, VEB Chairman Vladimir Dmitriev said the bank had via Russian investors ploughed $8 billion into Ukrainian steel plants, mainly in the Donbass region, since ravaged in a separatist conflict. He said the investment had supported 40,000 Ukrainian workers, but did not say how the Russian economy had benefited.” Overall, Russian banks’ continued presence and even growth in Ukraine - while puzzling to some external observers - can be explained by the significant role these banks play in the Ukrainian economy.

In 2014, VEB posted full year loss of USD4.5 billion / RUB250 billion and in 1H 2015 losses totalled USD1.5 billion. VEB’s Ukrainian subsidiary was one of the big drivers for these. Based on the figures, VEB posted the largest loss of any Russian company in 2014.  The top three largest loss making companies in 2014 were: Vnesheconombank, followed by the steelmaking giant Mechel (loss of 167 billion rubles) and the monopoly Russian Railways (losses of 99 billion rubles).

In addition, VEB holds some USD19.3 billion of debt maturing through 2025 (see chart from Bloomberg) with EUR9 billion of this in eurobonds:

VEB is subject to both EU and US sanctions which effectively shut VEB access to funding markets and the bank will require between EUR2.5 and 3 billion for debt servicing in 2016 alone. This week, VEB secured a five-year loan of 10 billion yuan or EUR1.4 billion from China Development Bank.

Recently, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov stated that VEB requires as much as USD20 billion in funding (ca 1.7% of Russian GDP), and that VEB is expected to sell some of its assets to fund part of the gap.

Per Bloomberg, “the finance ministry’s proposals include exchanging the lender’s Eurobonds for Russian government securities, Vedomosti reported Nov. 24. Other options on the table include a local government bond offering for 1.5 trillion rubles to recapitalize the bank, and transferring bad assets from VEB’s balance sheet to the state, according to newspaper Kommersant.”

15/8/15: Russian External Debt: Big Deleveraging, Smaller Future Pressures

Readers of this blog would have noted that in the past I referenced Russian companies cross-holdings of own debt in adjusting some of the external debt statistics for Russia. As I explained before, large share of the external debt owed by banks and companies is loans and other debt instruments issued by their parents and subsidiaries and direct equity investors - in other words, it is debt that can be easily rolled over or cross-cancelled within the company accounts.

This week, Central Bank of Russia did the same when it produced new estimate for external debt maturing in September-December 2015. The CBR excluded “intra-group operations” and the new estimate is based on past debt-servicing trends and a survey of 30 largest companies.

As the result of revisions, CBR now estimates that external debt coming due for Russian banks and non-financial corporations will be around USD35 billion, down on previously estimated USD61 billion.

CBR also estimated cash and liquid foreign assets holdings of Russian banks and non-bank corporations at USD135 billion on top of USD20 billion current account surplus due (assuming oil at USD40 pb) and USD14 billion of CBR own funds available for forex repo lending.

Here are the most recent charts for Russian external debt maturity, excluding most recent update for corporate and banks debt:

As the above table shows, in 12 months through June 2015, Russian Total External Debt fell 24%, down USD176.6 billion - much of it due to devaluation of the ruble and repayments of maturing debt. Of this, Government debt is down USD22.1 billion or 39% - a huge drop. Banks managed to deleverage out of USD59.9 billion in 12 months through June 2015 (down 29%) and Other Sectors external liabilities were down USD88.8 billion (-20%).

These are absolutely massive figures indicating:
1) One of the underlying causes of the ongoing economic recession (contracting credit supply and debt repayments drag on investment and consumer credit);
2) Strengthening of corporate and banks' balance sheets; and
3) Overall longer term improvement in Russian debt exposures.

6/8/15: IMF Assessment of Russian Banks & Financial Markets

Alongside the Article IV (covered in three posts all linked here:, the IMF also released a series of technical papers, including one on the state of health of the Russian financial markets.

Top-level conclusion: "using a comprehensive index of financial development, to identify potential bottlenecks", the study "…finds that Russia’s financial markets are relatively deep, accessible and efficient, but that financial institutions, in particular banks, have much to do to improve their efficiency and create further depth. Russia could potentially gain up to 1 percentage point in GDP growth on average over the medium-term from further deepening and efficiency improvements. Policies towards this outcome include reducing banking sector fragmentation through consolidation via increased supervision and tightening capital standards; strengthening the role of credit bureaus and collateral registries to reduce information asymmetries; and removal of interest rate rigidities to foster competition."

Specifically, one key bottleneck is the distribution of sources for finance: "Russian companies rely much less on external financing in general and on bank financing in particular, to finance investment compared to their peers in Eastern Europe and Central Asia or in their upper middle income group. Typically, internal resources, state funds and controlling entities are responsible for financing up to 80 percent of business investment. As a result, banks contribute only 6 percent of funding for business investment, with the bulk of investment financed from retained earnings."

Couple of charts

Now, one can agree with IMF on the need for Russian companies to tap more diversified investment channels, but one has to also observe two key risks inherent in this suggestion:

  1. Debt levels overall are low in Russian economy, and much of these are accumulated in controlling entities relations with enterprises - in other words - linked to equity and direct investment. This is good, as this allows enterprises more flexibility and better management opportunities with respect to cash flow and business activity;
  2. Low debt levels also allow for absorption of political shocks that we are witness gin today, arising from political shutting down of Russian companies access to Western funding markets. If Russia is to retain meaningful risk buffers, accessing external finance via bond markets and equity markets abroad saddles Russian entities with higher risk of external shocks.

So IMF can propose, but I seriously doubt Russian companies will be rushing to borrow at a breakneck speed any time soon.

IMF uses a relatively new framework for assessment of the financial sector environment, the concept of financial development. "Financial development is defined as a combination of:

  • Depth (size and liquidity of markets), 
  • Access (ability of individuals to access financial services), and 
  • Efficiency (ability of institutions to provide financial services at low cost and with sustainable revenues, and the level of activity of capital markets)."

So IMF main conclusion is quite surprising for those not familiar with Russian markets: "Russia’s financial markets are relatively developed but financial institutions lag behind in terms of efficiency and depth."

"Russia’s FD index (0.58) is higher than the average EM (0.37) and slightly lower than the average BTICS (0.64), a group of countries composed of Brazil, Turkey, India, China, and South Africa. …Russia scores much higher than the comparator groups for FM developments [Financial Markets development] as it features higher degrees of access and efficiency in the operations of its financial markets. Although the depth of financial markets is slightly lower than BTICS countries, it remains much higher than the average EM."

Big bottleneck is in financial depth, where "…financial institutions in Russia are comparatively dominated by the banking system, with fewer to non-existent assets, in percent of GDP, in pension funds, mutual funds and insurance industry. Moreover, the banking system lacks depth with domestic credit at about 50 percent of GDP being the lowest in the BTICS group."

Why? "With some 850 banks operating, the Russian banking system is highly concentrated at the top, and fragmented at the bottom":

  • "The top three banks (state-owned) accounted for more than 50 percent of total sector assets at year-end 2014 while the top 20 banks accounted for 75 percent of total sector assets."
  • "Lending is highly concentrated among the top 10 bank groups making about 850 banks contribute only 15 percent of total lending."
  • "…VTB Group alone with 16 percent share of lending accounts for a similar share as the 830 remaining banks."
  • "Most of the banks are small and act as treasury accounts for local firms, operating in particular in mono-cities."

This "…undermines lending to companies and SMEs as their ability to both extend credit and diversify across companies is limited while lending to consumers is usually the dominant form of credit."

What is there to be done to get Russian banking and financial systems up to speed?

IMF benchmarks the potential scope of reforms against the absolute best scenario (not scenario consistent with other comparative economies), which makes things sound quite a bit optimistic, or unrealistic. The menu is predictable and relatively straightforward:

  • Cut the number of banks without impacting degree of competition. Which is easy to say, hard to achieve, and at any rate, Russian authorities have been doing as much, albeit slowly, for a good part of almost 2 years now.
  • Increase supervisory pressures to remove even more banks out of the active list (again, has been ongoing since 2013).
  • Improve quality of collateral registries to lower the cost of collateralisation for SMEs. Which, in part, will also involve improving existent system of credit bureaus.
  • Link deposit rates paid by the banks to the banks' deposit insurance cover. In other words, remove Central Bank restriction on deposit rates quoted by the banks, but replace it with a restriction capping ability of highly risky banks to raise uninsured deposits. Which sounds like a good idea, assuming deposit insurance scheme is fully funded and solvent. Which, in turn, assumes no systemic crisis.
  • Privatise state banks. Which is strange. IMF also notes that "there is no urgent need in Russia for large scale privatization, especially in light of the fragmentary evidence that public banks in Russia are not less efficient than private ones." And the Fund stresses the importance of economies of scale in delivering improved banking sector efficiencies. Which begs a question: what is to be privatised? Large state-owned banks? If they are privatised with a break up, the system will suffer risks to the efficiency. If they are privatised as they are, the system will receive private dominant players in the market which, arguably, will be no different from the state-owned ones in any meaningful way.

As usual for IMF: neat pics, cool stats, a small pinch of useful proposals and a list of predictable ideas that make sense… only if you do not spot their faulty logic…