MOSCOW Aug 7 Two Russian banks hit by Western
sanctions have asked for state help, potentially bringing the
total bill for supporting the industry to $10 billion and piling
pressure on government finances in a slowing economy.
Western debt and equity markets are now largely closed for
Russian borrowers, forcing them to switch to domestic lenders,
which need more liquidity to meet the extra demand.
State-controlled Rosselkhozbank and Gazprombank, in which
state-controlled gas company Gazprom and state
development bank VEB are co-owners, have asked for at least 117
billion roubles ($3.22 billion) in total to underpin lending,
officials said on Thursday.
It was unclear when the requests were initially made, but
they became public as Russia imposed retaliatory bans on most
food products from the United States, the European Union and
some other counties, fuelling fears of inflation and raising the
prospect that local farms will need additional support to
Agriculture Minister Nikolai Fyodorov said on Thursday that
the ministry had proposed boosting Rosselkhozbank with 77
billion roubles in additional capital by 2020.
"It is understandable that Rosselkhozbank ... would like
even more, but our calculations stand at 77 billion," he said,
adding that the measures were yet to be approved.
The government has already said it would spend 239 billion
roubles ($6.6 billion) from the National Wealth Fund (NWF),
which collects oil revenues, to buy out preferred shares of VTB
and Rosselkhozbank to boost their capital.
Of that amount, 25 billion roubles were earmarked for
Rosselkhozbank alone. It was unclear if the figure announced by
Fyodorov came in addition to the 25 billion.
The NWF stood at $86.5 billion as of Aug. 1, down $1.4
billion from the previous month.
Gazprombank has approached the government with a proposal
for the NWF to buy out preferred shares worth almost 40 billion
roubles, the bank's First Vice-President Ekaterina Trofimova
She said the move was needed to support further growth of
Gazprombank's loan portfolio and the bank was counting on a
All three banks - VTB, Gazprombank and Rosselkhozbank - are
converting subordinated loans they received during the financial
crisis of 2008-09 into equity to avoid redemption and paying
The daily newspaper Kommersant quoted an unnamed source as
saying that Gazprombank's request was "in general" approved.
Trofimova declined additional comments.
The Russian central bank has already promised to help banks
hit by sanctions with liquidity, which - along with more
expensive food imports from some remote countries like Chile or
Argentina - may add to inflationary risks.
"It is difficult to say at this stage what effect the (food)
ban will have on Russia's economy, but the cost could be
significant, with the main impact likely to come via higher
inflation," said Capital Economics.
Annual inflation stood at 7.5 percent in July, up from 6.5
percent in 2013 and above of the central bank's forecast for the
year as a whole.
Fyodorov said on Thursday there was a risk of a short-term
spike in inflation, but he did not see a threat to consumer
prices over the medium to long term. Several analysts disagreed.
"The risk of prolonged trade restrictions combined with the
proposed introduction of a sales tax and the risk of tariff
growth catch-up next year suggest that even our above-consensus
7 percent consumer prices index growth expectations for 2015 may
be too optimistic," Alfa Bank said in a note.
Sberbank more than doubled its loan-loss
provisions in the January-to-July period, reflecting the cost of
sanctions and the deterioration of the Russian economy, which
the central bank forecasts will grow by 0.4 percent this year.
VTB, Russia's second biggest bank by assets after Sberbank,
had to pay off $3.1 billion in a syndicated loan from its own
funds last month.
(Additional reporting by Alexander Winning and Polina Devitt;
writing by Katya Golubkova; editing by Jason Bush and Tom