April 3, 2017 / 12:20 PM / 5 months ago

INTERVIEW-Russian bank Ak Bars cleaning balance sheet with eye on a top-15 position

* Cutting risky, non-core assets to boost lending elsewhere

* Targets retail, corporate lending at least 10 pct in 2017

* May consider issuing Eurobond by end-2017 (Adds details, quotes, writes through)

By Kira Zavyalova

KAZAN, Russia, April 3 (Reuters) - Mid-sized Russian bank Ak Bars is cleaning up its balance sheet with an aim to grow lending and become one of the country's top 15 banks by 2021, its deputy chief executive told Reuters.

Controlled by the region of Tatarstan and currently Russia's 20th biggest bank by assets, Ak Bars is in the spotlight after the Russian central bank's decision to revoke the licences of three lenders in Tatarstan..

The central bank, on a drive to clean up Russia's banking system, last week sacked the head of Tatarstan's central bank, though it said there was no immediate threat to the banking sector in the region where just over a dozen lenders operate.

Deputy CEO Vladimir Demushkin said in an interview that to achieve its growth targets Ak Bars aimed to reduce non-core and high-risk assets to free up lending for other areas. Its largest and core clients include energy and petrochemical companies.

"We are in the permanent contact with the regulator ... The central bank has been and is controlling us closely," he said.

Ratings agency Fitch has estimated Ak Bars had 141 billion roubles ($2.5 billion) of high-risk assets at the end of the first quarter of last year. But it said in December there was no direct link between Tatfondbank's problems and Ak Bars.

The agency predicted Ak Bars' high-risk assets could fall to around 81 billion roubles, as some loans are repaid or sold.

Demushkin said the bank, the biggest in the Volga region of Tatarstan with some 3 million retail customers, at the end of last year sold 25 billion roubles worth of loans related to real estate developers.

Ak Bars also set aside 19 billion roubles in provisions for non-performing loans at the end of 2016, up from 14 billion in 2015.

Its total loan portfolio fell 16 percent last year, as a 24 percent fall in corporate lending outweighed an 11 percent increase in retail lending.

But the bank aims to grow both corporate and retail lending this year by at least 10 percent, Demushkin said. A 10 billon-rouble capital increase later this year should also allow for more lending.

"The new strategy approved at the end of 2016 calls for entering the list of top 15 banks by assets by 2021. So we will be actively lending," Demushkin said.

Ak Bars may consider issuing Eurobonds towards the end of this year, but currently customer deposits are a more attractive source of funding, he said.

Ak Bars has two outstanding Eurobond issues - $350 million due in 2018 and a $600 million subordinated one due in 2022.

$1 = 56.3231 roubles Reporting by Kira Zavyalova; Writing by Katya Golubkova; Editing by Sujata Rao and Mark Potter

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