| VIENNA, March 8
VIENNA, March 8 Moody's kept its negative
outlook for Austria's banking system on Friday, citing a
weakening operating environment, rising bad debt charges and a
limited capacity of many banks to absorb losses.
The credit ratings agency said these negative factors were
only partly counter-balanced by what it saw as the modest
funding risks of most Austrian banks.
Moody's, which has had a negative outlook on the Austrian
banking system since 2009, said it did not expect to see any
major shifts in the environment for the sector over the coming
12 to 18 months which its report covered.
In addition to the economic crisis in the euro zone, of
which Austria is a member, ratings agencies are concerned about
the high exposure of Austrian banks to central, eastern and
southeast Europe, as well as tough domestic competition.
Unicredit's Bank Austria, Raiffeisen Bank
International (RBI) and Erste Group Bank are
the three biggest lenders in the region.
"Risk charges have continued to be higher than what was
originally expected. The result is that the problem loans have
continued to rise," Moody's senior analyst Swen Metzler told
"They make very decent earnings before risk provisions, but
this is to a large extent consumed by loan losses and goodwill
impairments," Metzler added.
The exposure of Austrian banks to Hungary in particular, as
well as to weaker euro zone debtor countries and wider euro zone
troubles, was a major factor in rival agency S&P's decision to
strip Austria of its cherished triple-A rating in January 2012.
This January, S&P raised its outlook on Austria's debt to
stable from negative, in an acknowledgement of the fact that the
country's export-led economy had weathered the storm better than
most European countries.
Austria also has a host of domestic banks, including the
retail-focused Raiffeisenbanken and Volksbanken cooperatives,
which operate in an environment of intense competition and low
"You could look at it as two outlooks in one. The domestic
environment ... by itself is enough to attribute a negative
outlook to the banking system, as are the challenges coming from
CEE and CIS," said Moody's managing director banking Carola
Schuler, referring to central and eastern Europe and former
Moody's rates Bank Austria and Erste Group A3 with a
negative outlook, and RBI A2 with a stable outlook.
(Editing by David Holmes)