Trust bank becomes first financial casualty of Russia’s currency crisis

Moscow’s Trust bank has become the first financial casualty of Russia’s currency crisis after the country’s central bank threw it a $530m (£340m) lifeline to prevent it going bankrupt.

Trust, which uses the Hollywood star Bruce Willis to advertise its credit cards, ran into trouble after its policy of offering attractive savings rates and consumer loans fell foul of Russia’s economic slowdown.

The country’s central bank said it was providing up to 30bn roubles to help the medium-sized bank in what is thought likely to be the first of a series of bailouts made necessary by the near-halving of the global price of oil and the sharp fall in the value of the rouble.

Last Friday, Russian MPs rushed through a bill authorising a 1tn-rouble recapitalisation of the country’s banks, which have suffered big losses as a result the currency crisis.

The central bank’s Deposit Insurance Agency will be responsible for supervising Trust under a temporary arrangement until a new investor, likely to be one of Russia’s leading banks, is chosen as a white knight.

Trust’s problems echo those of Northern Rock, the first bank to get into trouble in the UK when the global financial crisis broke in the summer of 2007. Like Northern Rock, the Russian bank had been offering loans on easy terms and annual rates of interest in excess of 20% on rouble accounts.

Its difficulties have been made worse by western sanctions, which have made it impossible for Russian banks to get funding from overseas financial markets and left them dependent on domestic investors.

The announcement from the central bank came as a steadier oil price eased the pressure on Russia’s currency. Brent crude was trading at $61.14 after losing early gains on the commodity markets, and the rouble was up 5% against the dollar at 55.2.

Emerging markets’ analysts at Capital Economics said in a briefing note: “The Russian ruble has stabilised in recent days, but only after the central bank introduced a raft of measures to limit ruble liquidity – including a massive hike in interest rates – and, perhaps more importantly, oil prices started to edge up. The effects of the collapse in the currency on the real economy will be felt in the first half of 2015.

“Inflation looks set to jump, perhaps to 20%, and real incomes will contract. Meanwhile, although the rouble has stabilised over the past few days, interbank interest rates have spiked to levels that have typically preceded a credit crunch in the wider economy. All told, we think that GDP will shrink by 5% next year.”

James Butterfill, a global equity strategist at Coutts, said: “While the economic situation is serious, Russian equities look oversold – the MSCI Russia index is now trading at 0.4 times its book value – a 70% discount to emerging markets as a whole and a more bearish position than even the low of 0.6 times during the credit crisis. To find anything cheaper, you would have to go back to the 1998 crisis triggered by the collapse of hedge fund Long Term Capital Management, when Russia’s equity market traded at 0.2 times book value.”

Powered by article was written by Larry Elliott, economics editor, for The Guardian on Monday 22nd December 2014 13.20 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


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