* Banks’ loan portfolio grew in 2012
* C. bank has no immediate plans to revise refinancing rate (Adds details, background)
By Mariya Gordeyeva
ALMATY, Jan 9 (Reuters) - Kazakhstan, Central Asia’s largest economy, expects gross domestic product to expand by 5 to 6 percent this year, National Bank Governor Grigory Marchenko said on Wednesday.
Deputy Prime Minister Kairat Kelimbetov said last month that the oil-fuelled economy was expected to grow by at least 5 percent in 2012. Kazakhstan’s GDP increased by 7.5 percent in 2011.
Quoting preliminary central bank data, Marchenko told a news conference that the loan portfolio of Kazakhstan’s banking sector had expanded by 12.3 percent last year.
Marchenko, in his second term as governor, told Reuters in an interview in November that local banks could expand lending by up to 15 percent in 2013 as the economy grows but it will take a year before a distressed asset fund weeds out bad loans inherited by the sector from the global financial crisis.
Inflation in Kazakhstan, a major exporter of industrial metals and grain, slowed to 6.0 percent last year from 7.4 percent in 2011, hitting the bottom end of the official 6-8 percent target.
A slowdown in inflation in 2012 prompted the central bank to cut its key refinancing rate on four separate occasions since February. It has been at a historic low of 5.5 percent since August.
“We have no immediate plans to revise the refinancing rate,” Marchenko said.
Ratings agency Fitch raised its view of Kazakhstan’s credit profile on Nov. 20 in recognition of the country’s sovereign balance sheet and initial efforts to cleanse bad debts from its banking system.
The BBB+ long-term foreign currency issuer rating, with a stable outlook, pushed Kazakhstan firmly into investment grade territory and a notch above its neighbour Russia.
Kazakhstan’s state-guaranteed debt totalled $5.1 billion as of Sept. 30, 2012, or just 4 percent of the country’s gross external debt of $134.9 billion, according to central bank data published on Wednesday.
Kazakhstan has saved $57.8 billion in the National Fund replenished by windfall oil export revenues, which may cushion knock-on effects of potential crises.
The country’s total international reserves of $85.5 billion stand at about 40 percent of its annual GDP.
Reporting by Mariya Gordeyeva; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Peter Cooney