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UPDATE 1-Russia's Sberbank warns of recession risk
March 24, 2014 / 3:50 PM / in 4 years

UPDATE 1-Russia's Sberbank warns of recession risk

* Russia’s capital outflow seen around $70 bln in Q1

* If outflows hit $100 bln, growth could be zero - Sberbank (Adds quotes, background, details about SMP, Bank Rossiya)

By Oksana Kobzeva

MOSCOW, March 24 (Reuters) - Russia is at risk of recession as investors pull money out of the country, with growth likely to evaporate if capital outflows reach $100 billion, the head of its largest bank, state-owned Sberbank, said on Monday.

Capital has fled Russia, with stocks and the rouble sliding following Moscow’s seizure of Crimea from Ukraine and western sanctions against Russian individuals. Analysts at Goldman Sachs recently predicted capital outflows for this year could reach $130 billion, or double 2013 levels.

“The present situation has a negative impact on the economy worldwide, both in Russia and in Europe,” Sberbank CEO German Gref said at a press briefing after a supervisory board meeting.

Gref said the risk of recession “unfortunately exists,” though Sberbank was not reviewing its business plan in light of the risk.

He also said the bank was not leaving Ukraine, where it has exposure of 130 billion roubles ($4 billion) - or less than 1 percent of its balance sheet.

Russian Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev recently said capital flight from Russia in January and February totalled $35 billion, Russian media reported. In January-March, the outflow is estimated at $65-70 billion, Deputy Economy Minister Andrei Klepach said on Monday.

The dollar-denominated RTS stock index is down 21 percent this year, while the rouble is down 10 percent against the dollar.

Some analysts have said steps Russia has taken to prevent the rouble from falling more steeply - by for example raising interest rates and spending billions in reserves to support the currency - could push the country into recession.

If East-West tensions persist, that could further deter foreign investment, perpetuate economic stagnation and perhaps ultimately undermine Russia’s own political stability, they have warned.

Concerns about the crisis over Ukraine have spread across Europe, where one analyst reported customers being “very, very scared ... about political matters.”

“I have experienced huge concern in all the European companies I have been in contact with - both economic concern and about what happens next, regarding sanctions and retaliation,” said Danske Bank chief analyst Lars Christensen.

The sanctions have also directly impacted Russian banks SMP and Bank Rossiya.

Washington’s sanctions targeted 20 Russians close to President Vladimir Putin, including Boris Rotenberg and his older brother Arkady, the co-owners of SMP Bank, while St Petersburg-based Bank Rossiya was sanctioned alongside its chairman and largest shareholder Yuri Kovalchuk.

SMP said on Monday that around 9 billion roubles ($248 million) had been withdrawn by depositors since the sanctions were imposed against its shareholders, while Bank Rossiya asked its clients to refrain from making foreign currency payments to accounts at the bank due to the U.S. sanctions. (Reporting by Oksana Kobzeva in Moscow, additional reporting by Annabella Pultz Nielsen in Copenhagen; Writing by Megan Davies; Editing by Mark Potter)

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