Russian Banks Most Exposed As Ukraine's "Precarious" Finances Spike Risk To 3 Year High
Ongoing anti-regime demonstrations in Ukraine are weighing on investor's risk perceptions as CDS spike to near three-year highs today (up over 100bps). At a minimum developments lower president Yanukovich's chances of remaining in power beyond the spring 2015 elections and possibly undermine his hold on power earlier, further decreasing the likelihood of sizeable financial support from Russia. With Moody's earlier comments on the nation's "precarious external liquidity" position; as Goldman warns, with even higher political uncertainty ahead, an acceleration of capital outflows might also follow and while they think the authorities will eventually turn to the IMF to avoid a disorderly sell-off of the currency, recent events arguably raise the risks to that view. However, the capital outflows are already having an impact as Reuters notes, Russian banks are considerably exposed as Ukrainian banks should deposit runs escalate.
Some background from Guy Haselmann of Scotiabank:
Ukraine is a strategically important country of 45 million people. A trade pact with the EU was close. However, it appears that a rival bid (or other means of influence) arose during two closed door meetings with Vladimir Putin. The press often reports that President Yanukovich’s corrupt government has shown an instinct for self-preservation often at the expense of the expense of the nation.
The Ukraine economy is in recession. The country has only $20 billion of foreign reserves which is 2 ½ months of imports (worse than Egypt). The IMF’s red flag level is 3 months. Ukraine has $10bln of external debt maturing in 2014. Its CDS rose over 100 bps this week to near 1100. Debt-to-GDP is only 43%, but Argentina defaulted with its debt-to-GDP at 50%. Its currency (Hryvnia), which was devalued in 2008, is pegged to the dollar. The current account deficit is 7% and herein lies the biggest problem.
The IMF is unlikely to help until after the 2015 election. The EU is unlikely to provide any aid. Russia may be enticed to help via loans. The President is on his way to China - who may help - but he may return no longer in power.
And Goldman notes the situation is fluid but highly likely that anti-regime protests will persist with several possible scenarios developing:
1) President Yanukovich declares a state of emergency and/or uses force to prevent protests from developing further;
2) President Yanukovich agrees to talks with the opposition and to a roadmap for signing the EU association agreement at some point in 2014 (our understanding had been that this would not be possible on the EU side, but EU leaders have recently suggested otherwise);
3) President Yanukovich does nothing and protests persist.
From the macroeconomic standpoint, these protests come at a time when the National Bank of Ukraine (NBU) has had to defend the currency peg through sizeable interventions, which have depleted the reserve cover to 2.5 months of imports, and when the government is arguably unable to roll its debt in the market. Goldman fears the further risk is that, due to the heightened political uncertainty, capital outflows could intensify, putting further pressure on the peg.
While there had been some press reports suggesting sizeable Russian financial help in exchange for the country not signing the EU association agreement, the recent developments, in our view, call this further into question. We think that Russia is unlikely to extend substantial help without guarantees. Given that it appears that President Yanukovich's chances of holding on to power beyond the 2015 spring election have decreased following the protests and schisms in his administration might even weaken his powers earlier (splits in the Region's Party, for instance, might deprive him of a majority in parliament) he might very well not be in a position any more to give those guarantees.
As indicated by polling and by the participation in street protests, the decision to suspend preparations for signing the EU association agreement was an unpopular one, at least with a significant part of the population. Goldman believes that President Yanukovich may have underestimated the political ramifications of doing so.
At this stage, it is difficult to forecast how the situation will evolve. Apart from the size of the protests it also matters to what extent the president can hold on to his own power bases in the Regions Party and the eastern part of the country. Given that the economy is in recession and the heavy industries in the east in particular are suffering, his support there might very well be more brittle than in the past.
But perhaps there is a silver lining - in an odd twisted way - the concerns about Ukrainian banks and the currency peg have seen deposit outflows increasing the risk to the country's financial system and creating a particularly acute headache for Russian banks. The silver lining, of course, is that Russia may be forced to provide more assistance in a Cyprus-style save for its own banks (lenders) and depositors...
While other foreign lenders have cut their Ukraine exposure in the five years since - to 20 percent of Ukraine banking sector assets in 2012 from 40 percent in 2008, according to a Raiffeisen Research survey - Russian banks have maintained a strong market presence, still accounting for 12 percent.
Among foreign banks, the Russians have easily the biggest exposure, more than twice that of Austrian lenders, the next biggest.
"[Moodys] estimate that these banks' exposure to Ukrainian risk is $20-$30 billion, a sizeable amount indeed, considering that their combined Tier 1 capital was $105 billion in June," Moody's said.
Moody's, which estimated that 35 percent of all bank loans in Ukraine were problem loans, said the country's severe economic problems would keep local borrowers under pressure and could result in higher loan losses for the Russian lenders.
In the absence of the association agreement with the European Union, Russian-Ukrainian trade is likely to rise, and the four big Russian banks may well increase their exposure to Ukraine, it added.
Dimitry Sologoub, head of research at Raiffeisen in Kiev, said the banks had learned lessons from the 2008 crisis, so were much less exposed to credit risk, liquidity risk and forex risk, and the central bank was calming matters by providing liquidity and foreign exchange.
"The question is how long it will go? The reserve cushion of the national bank is not so big."
In the meantime, Ukraine might secure short-term benefits from its closer ties with Russia, enough perhaps to stave off the kind of currency crisis that nearby Belarus suffered in 2011, said Charles Robertson, chief global economist at Renaissance Capital in London.
"In the long run, it will probably keep Ukraine poor. This is bad for Ukrainians and bad for Russia," he added.
"Instead of being a strong, successful economy on Russia's borders, able to buy plenty of Russian exports, Ukraine risks becoming another Belarus."
Which - after all - could be just what Putin wants...