* Will convert 2-week bills into 2-week deposits from Aug
* Foreign banks will not have access to 2-week deposits
* Aims to encourage banks to buy more government securities
* Up to 1,000 bln forints could leave central bank deposits
* Forint weakens on announcement, bond yields fall
(Adds more comments, markets)
By Krisztina Than and Gergely Szakacs
BUDAPEST, April 24 Hungary's central bank moved
on Thursday to push commercial banks to buy more local-currency
government debt in an attempt to reduce the country's high
reliance on foreign financing.
The move fits into the strategy of Prime Minister Viktor
Orban, re-elected in a landslide earlier this month, to project
himself as a champion of financial sovereignty.
Since winning power in 2010, Orban has weaned Hungary off an
International Monetary Fund lifeline, spurned European Union
strictures on constitutional change and made plain his distrust
of the foreign-owned banks that dominate the sector.
The central bank's announcement on Thursday is the latest
intervention by Hungarian authorities into the local banking
system. The government has already instituted Europe's highest
bank levy and imposed a tax on financial transactions. The
central bank recently proposed a shake-up of the sector.
It said on Thursday that from Aug. 1 its two-week bills -
its main tool for managing market liquidity - will be replaced
with two-week deposits, where foreign players will not be able
to park their funds, and which it won't accept as collateral
This, the bank said, should encourage foreign banks and
banks operating in Hungary to shift some 600 billion to 1
trillion forints ($4.5 billion) worth of funds from the two-week
deposits into other assets, chiefly forint-denominated
The central bank is led by a strong ally of Orban, his
former economy minister Gyorgy Matolcsy, who has already crafted
a series of go-it-alone policies that often surprised investors.
The government debt agency's deputy CEO told Reuters that
new floating-rate bonds first offered at an auction on Thursday
should be attractive to banks, and the agency does not expect a
significant change in amounts offered at its regular fixed-rate
He also said Hungary may be able to replace the remaining
1.3 billion euros worth of foreign currency debt issuance
planned for this year with forint financing, but a decision will
only be made in the second half of the year.
"If there are changes in forint financing, we would like to
shift issuance towards longer maturities," Laszlo Borbely said.
FORINT WEAKENS, YIELDS DROP
The move could reduce the costs of the central bank, which
pays 2.6 percent interest rate on the 2-week bills where
banks park funds worth a disproportionately high 5.3 trillion
The forint eased about a quarter of a percent against the
euro after the central bank's announcements to 308.50 and
dealers did not rule out further weakening beyond 310.
Government bond yields, however, dropped about 20 basis
points, and analysts said yields could fall further, depending
on how foreign banks react: whether they invest the money into
short-term bills or longer-term debt, or take it abroad.
"Market effects should be negative for the forint in the
shorter run, due to the implied capital outflow," said Gergely
Gabler, an economist at Erste Bank.
David Nemeth at K&H Bank said foreign investment banks will
need to decide quickly what to do with their money parked in
2-week bills now they will be shut out from the 2-week deposits.
"Local commercial banks are already buyers of government
debt, this will continue ... I don't think their behaviour would
change now all of a sudden," he added.
The bank said it will also launch three new tools from June
16 to encourage invetsors to buy government debt. It will
introduce a forint interest rate swap facility to allow banks to
cut their risks on long-term forint bonds.
There will also be a new asset swap to give banks access to
foreign exchange liquidity in exchange for long-term forint
government securities, and a new forint liquidity tool.
"What we have done is that we have reduced the appeal of
this (two-week bill) instrument significantly and encouraged
banks ... to invest the funds into other assets," central bank
director Marton Nagy told a news conference.
($1 = 222.71 Hungarian Forints)
(Additional reporting by Sandor Peto; Editing by Jeremy