October 30, 2017 / 5:25 PM / 2 years ago

Russian 'pocket banks' must merge to survive

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia risks having to bail out more banks owned by large industrial groups unless there is rapid consolidation, VTB (VTBR.MM) First Deputy Chief Executive Yuri Solovyov said.

FILE PHOTO: A woman stands near a screen, which displays the logo of VTB Group, at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), Russia, June 1, 2017. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin/File Photo

Two of Russia’s biggest banks, Otkritie and B&N, have had to be taken over by the central bank in the past two months after a liquidity squeeze.

Such “pocket banks”, a post-Soviet phenomenon which involved industrial groups needing their own banking wings to finance business, are still common in Russia, but some are struggling.

“There should be less banks (than now) - we said this many times. Banks should be well-capitalised,” Solovyov told Reuters.

State controlled VTB is the second biggest bank by assets in Russia, which now has some 500 lenders, down from almost 900 in 2013 when central bank chief Elvira Nabiullina took the helm.

“We are now moving towards (a situation) when some of the ‘pocket banks’ will be sold off or risk repeating the fate of those bailed out,” Solovyov said.

Asked if VTB would buy bailed out lenders Otkritie or B&N after the central bank finishes cleaning them up, Solovyov said the state bank is growing quite fast organically.

“There should be a logic behind any purchase. There is no task to buy (something) just because of the loan book... It’s hard to see how Otkritie will look after the bailout.”

VTB holds a minority stake in the Otkritie group which controlled the bank which will be written down and cost VTB around 7 billion rubles (£91.4 million).

A VTB loan to Otkritie to buy Lukoil’s (LKOH.MM) diamond business has been serviced, Solovyev said.


Loans to mid-sized Russian oil producer Russneft and Russia’s largest home electronics retailer M.Video (MVID.MM), both part of the Safmar business group behind B&N, are being serviced and VTB has no plans to take equity stakes in either.

Mikhail Gutseriyev, whose family controls Safmar, said in August that Russneft owed VTB $1.26 billion.

“Russneft’s debt to VTB is being serviced, the company is in good shape.. We don’t have any issues,” Solovyov said.

FILE PHOTO: A woman walks in front of a store of Russia's biggest electrical and white goods retailer M.video in Moscow, Russia April 15, 2016. REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev/File Photo

B&N’s co-owners are transferring some Safmar assets to B&N, but it was not clear whether Russneft or another oil company, Neftisa, were part of that process.

Solovyov, whose bank also holds a stake in M.Video as collateral, said that debt was being “stably serviced”.

VTB was ready to provide a loan of $500-550 million to transport company Fesco (FESH.MM) if it succeeded in restructuring its debt with bondholders, he added.

Reporting by Katya Golubkova; editing by Alexander Smith

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