December 15, 2017

By Tatiana Voronova and Jack Stubbs

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia has stepped in to rescue Promsvyazbank, the country’s 10th largest private lender, its central bank said on Friday, the third in a series of costly financial bailouts this year.

Promsvyazbank (PSB) is the latest banking casualty since late August, when the central bank rescued Otkritie, once the country’s largest private bank, and later B&N.

The bailouts mark the biggest challenge to Russia’s financial sector since a banking crisis roughly 20 years ago and show how the country and its banks are grappling with the economic impact of the fall in oil prices and Western sanctions over the Ukraine conflict.

One senior lawmaker said there would be no further such rescues this year.

There are slightly more than 500 banks in Russia, half the number it had some years ago, as the central bank continues a clean up. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday there was no target for the number of banks in Russia.

The central bank said it was providing funds to support Promsvyazbank’s liquidity and would send in temporary administrators.

It said there would be no moratorium on Promsvyazbank paying creditors and that the bank was operating as normal.

“As part of measures aimed at increasing (Promsvyazbank’s) financial stability and ensuring its continued work in the banking services market, it is planned that the Bank of Russia act as an investor using the funds of the Banking Sector Consolidation Fund,” the regulator said.

The latest rescue was announced on Friday, following late-night talks, when the central bank presented the troubled bank with an ultimatum: find 100 billion rubles ($1.7 billion) of extra capital or be bailed out.

People with direct knowledge of the matter said Promsvyazbank’s co-owner and chairman, Dmitry Ananyev, and central bank governor Elvira Nabiullina, agreed on a rescue at a late-night meeting.

Dmitry Ananyev and his brother, Alexei, who together control just over 50 percent of the bank, said on Friday the bank’s its serious difficulties had prompted them to ask for state support.

“Over a prolonged period of time the regulator was examining our assets, which resulted in a request for additional provisions and, as a result, the temporary administration was introduced,” their statement said.

Lawmaker Anatoly Aksakov, a member of the Duma finance committee and head of the Russian Banking Association, said the bailout would not affect the wider sector and was the last such step to be taken this year.

CLEAN SLATE

The latest rescue marks a reversal of fortune for three private banks with ties to the Kremlin and which had helped out dollar-starved Russian companies when big state banks were hampered by Western sanctions.

Otkritie, Promsvyazbank and B&N Bank, had won business lending to state energy firms and others needing to meet big overseas debt repayments as the Ukraine conflict closed financial markets to state lenders such as Sberbank <SBER.MM>.

The central bank said Otkritie and B&N were too financially weak to continue. Promsvyazbank said on Friday that its bail-out was a result of a decision by the central bank to ask for additional provisions.

Richard Segal, a corporate debt strategist at investor Manulife Asset Management, said he was not surprised by the bank’s rescue because its capital had been running low.

One financial executive with knowledge of the rescue said the move cleared banking problems ahead of preparations for presidential elections.

“If not now … you will have to postpone the decision for at least a month. Plus, better to do it before the campaign is in its height,” said the person, who asked not to be named.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced his intention to run for another term last week and on Friday, the upper house of the Russian parliament voted to set March 18 as the date of next year’s presidential election.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Budushchee, one of Russia’s largest private pension funds, the Credit Bank of Moscow and non-state pension fund Safmar are among Promsvyazbank shareholders, data from end-November published on the bank’s web-site showed.

(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova, Tatiana Voronova, Jack Stubbs, Elena Fabrichnaya, Elena Orekhova and Sujata Rao-Coverley, writing by Katya Golubkova; Editing by John O’Donnell and Jane Merriman)

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