Reuters Summit-Sberbank tastiest Russia state offer-financiers

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MOSCOW, Sep 15 (Reuters) - Russia's biggest lender Sberbank SBER03.MM may be the jewel in the crown of the country's planned $50 billion of state asset sales over the coming five years, Moscow-based financiers said Wednesday.

“We feel that this is a banking giant that is gradually waking up,” Maarten van den Belt, Moscow-based chief executive of Wermuth Asset Management told Reuters Russia Summit.

Earlier on Wednesday, Russian finance minister Alexei Kudrin told Reuters the government expected to raise about $10 billion a year over the next five years, more than a $20 billion increase on the prior estimates of the expected restart of privatisation.

Along with an estimated 9.3 percent of Sberbank, other stakes expected to go under the hammer include some 27 percent of pipeline monopoly Transeft TRNF_pRTS, 24 percent of oil producer Rosneft ROSN.MM and 24.5 percent of Russia's No. 2 bank VTB VTBR.MM

Sberbank, currently 60 percent owned by Russia’s central bank, has 20,000 branches and holds roughly half of Russia’s personal savings.

Headed by German Gref, a pioneer of economic reforms in 2000-2007 during the presidency of Vladimir Putin, the lender managed to stay in the black last year despite the financial crisis.

It has forecast at least 100 billion roubles ($3.24 billion) net profit in 2010 and surprised markets with a record profit of 43.5 billion roubles in the first quarter. Sberbank’s shares have been flat in 2010 but have more than doubled in value from this time last year.

“Sberbank is an amazing story. You wouldn’t say Sberbank was cheap but if you want exposure to Russian growth, then it’s something you should have in your portfolio,” said Andrew Cornthwaite, deputy CEO at Renaissance Capital.

“It’s got more branches than most of the Chinese state-owned banks and penetration levels are very low, so any kind of increase in banking benefits an operation that is 50 percent funded by retail deposits.”

In its release of disappointing second-quarter results last month, Sberbank -- which hands out every third loan in Russia -- said it still saw retail loans growing by double digits for the full year and expected corporate loans to rise 6.5-6.7 percent. [ID:nLDE67O18H] (Writing by Mike Dolan. Reporting by Kiryl Sukhotski, Toni Vorobyova, Michael Stott, John Bowker) ($1=30.84 roubles)