* Consolidated profit doubles to 541 mln euros
* Loss provisions down 26.5 pct to 153 mln euros
* Maintains 2012 outlook, boosts liquidity on Greece worries
* Group core tier 1 ratio near 9.3 pct by EBA definition
* Shares up 1.8 percent
(Adds comments from news conference, analyst call)
By Michael Shields
VIENNA, May 24 Austrian lender Raiffeisen Bank
International has boosted its liquidity buffer to 25
billion euros ($31.5 billion)to ensure it has plenty of cash on
hand amid markets made jittery by Greece's financial crisis, RBI
"What all banks have to fear is the uncertainty of retail
savers. This leads them to knock on the door and say I want to
see my money," Chief Executive Herbert Stepic told reporters
after the bank's first-quarter profit easily beat expectations.
RBI has no Greek sovereign debt exposure but competes
against Greek banks in nearby Balkan countries, where it has
been taking business from them for a year, Stepic said.
"We have been taking over a good number of first-class
customers," Stepic told analysts in a conference call.
But this was not the case for retail customers in the
region, he said, suggesting an exodus would come only if Greece
actually quit the euro, an event to which he gave a 50-50
"If that will not happen, then I don't see a huge run on
Greek banks (abroad) from retail customers," he said.
RBI's first-quarter consolidated profit doubled to 541
million euros, smashing the average estimate of 457 million
euros after minorities in a Reuters poll and topping even the
highest estimate in the survey.
The market had been expecting provisioning costs to rise,
but they dropped a quarter to 153 million euros, helping to
offset a 3 percent decline in operating profit.
The bank called quarterly provisioning "low" and advised
analysts not to extrapolate the figure over the full year,
saying provisions in Hungary in particular would remain high.
Two exceptional items contributed to quarterly results. It
earned 159 million euros before tax "from further sales of the
group headquarters' securities portfolio", while hybrid debt
buybacks generated 113 million before tax.
The Raiffeisen group is on track to hit the European Banking
Authority's target for major banks to have core tier 1 capital
ratios of at least 9 percent of risk-weighted assets by the
middle of this year, it said.
"Taking into consideration measures already completed, or
close to their conclusion, the RZB group currently reaches a
core tier 1 ratio according to the EBA's definition of 9.3
percent and is therefore in line with the plan," it said
The 9.3 percent figure included consolidation of Polbank -
the Polish unit it is buying from Greece's EFG Eurobank
to drive growth in that market - and a capital swap at
unlisted parent Raiffeisen Zentralbank.
RBI shares were up 1.8 percent at 23.61 euros by 1400 GMT,
off a high at 24.10 but ahead of the 1.4 percent gain in the
Stoxx European banking sector index.
RBI - which is fighting Austrian peer Erste Group Bank
to be emerging Europe's second-biggest bank after
market leader UniCredit - left unchanged its outlook
for stable business volume in 2012.
It reiterated that a capital increase remained a possible
option depending on market conditions.
Raiffeisen officials have played down prospects for a rights
issue until market sentiment improves, but investor concern
about a potential capital increase has weighed on RBI shares.
RBI trades at around 5.6 times 12-month forward earnings, a
discount to Erste on 6.2 times, according to Thomson Reuters
StarMine, which ranks analyst estimates by previous accuracy.
RBI's results cap a solid first-quarter showing for big
Austrian banks, whose role as the biggest lenders in central and
eastern Europe put them in focus for Austria's debt ratings.
Erste's profit rose 7.8 percent to 346.5 million euros,
helped by a 250 million gain buying back hybrid debt.
UniCredit's Bank Austria unit boosted profit 17 percent to
399 million euros, helped by lower bad loan provisions and
repurchasing hybrid debt.
($1 = 0.7947 euro)
(Editing by David Cowell)