UPDATE 1-Immofinanz says Crimea crisis impact on Russian business uncertain

Wed Mar 19, 2014 3:01pm EDT

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VIENNA, March 19 (Reuters) - Austrian property group Immofinanz said the jury was out on the potential impact of Ukraine's political crisis on its business in Russia, which will be its biggest market once it completes a spin-off of its BUWOG residential unit.

"The extent of a potential effect on the commercial development of our target markets, above all Russia, cannot be estimated at the present time," it said on Wednesday while announcing net profit in the first three quarters of its fiscal year rose 7.1 percent to 225.8 million euros ($314 million).

"Although the weak rouble has a short-term positive effect on results through the valuation of our properties, it represents a negative factor for the development of our business in Russia over the medium- and long-term."

Russia will account for a quarter of Immofinanz's portfolio - up from 18 percent now - once the BUWOG spin-off goes through late next month. BUWOG is focused on Austria and Germany so the move will sharpen its focus on commercial property in central and eastern Europe.

The group had 9.2 billion euros worth of investment property plus 570 million in property under construction at end-January.

Rental income on its Russian retail portfolio is in principle linked to the euro or dollar, so fluctuations in the rouble exchange rate have no direct influence on results from asset management, it said.

"However, as the owner of shopping centres, we are dependent on the economic success of our tenants. A continuing decline in the value of the rouble could lead to pressure on some of these tenants," Chief Executive Eduard Zehetner said.

It noted the company has handled exchange rate swings without material damage, for instance via special short-term arrangements with some tenants during the 2008/09 financial crisis. "That is also a possible scenario in the current situation," it said.

"We do not believe that the so-called 'sanctions' implemented by various parties to date are capable of negatively influencing the Russian economy or the flow of goods and capital," Zehetner said.

"Our Russian properties are financed in U.S. dollars and solely through Russian banks (Sberbank of Russia) or the Russian subsidiaries of international banks (e.g. Rosbank, Nordea)," it said. These loans have long maturities and use the properties as collateral.

"Sufficient long-term financing is also available for our newly developed properties, such as the recently completed GOODZONE shopping centre," finance chief Birgit Noggler said.

Nine-month results from operations declined slightly due to numerous property sales and the delayed completion of the GOODZONE shopping centre in Moscow, it said.

($1 = 0.7189 Euros) (Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Anthony Barker)

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