Fitch recommends large Azerbaijani banks to increase capitalization

Fitch recommends large Azerbaijani banks to increase capitalization

Baku, Azerbaijan, Dec. 11

By Maksim Tsurkov - Trend:

Fitch International rating agency has assigned a negative outlook for the banking sector of Azerbaijan, leaving rating outlook stable, the "2016 Outlook: CIS and Georgian Banks" report of the agency said, released Dec.10.

Banking sector outlooks are negative across most countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), according to the report. This reflects Fitch Ratings' view that lenders' financial metrics are likely to weaken further in 2016, as slower economies, weaker currencies and higher interest rates continue to hit asset quality, profitability and capital.

However, Fitch forecasts at least moderate positive economic growth across the region (Belarus excepted) in 2016, which limits downside risks, and capital buffers are significant in some markets.

"The negative sector outlook reflects the heightened vulnerability of banks' asset quality, performance and capital due to increased dollarisation and the devaluation of the manat by 34 percent in the first quarter of 2015," said the report. "However, potential cyclicality of banks' asset quality and performance is already factored into their low ratings (with VRs mostly in the single 'b' category), and therefore rating outlooks on the banks are mostly stable."

The quality of corporate loans (61 percent of all sector lending) is undermined by considerable project finance lending to start-ups, long tenors/grace periods on principal repayments and the limited financial transparency of the corporate sector. These risks have increased due to the potential reduction in government spending, investment and consumption.

FX (foreign exchange)-denominated loans (45 percent of all loans; 56 percent of corporate lending at the end of the third quarter of 2015) represent the major source of credit risk, as most borrowers do not have export revenues.

"The quality of unsecured retail and micro- lending, which grew very rapidly in 2012-2014, is also likely to weaken as portfolios season," said the report. "Near-term retail growth potential is constrained by weakened internal capital generation capacity at some banks and increased consumer indebtedness for those that borrowed in foreign currency."

Increased deposit dollarisation results in banks' structural inability to hedge their short open currency positions by any other means except issuing foreign-currency loans, increasing future credit risks, according to the report. Many banks in the sector operate with unhedged short FX positions and are exposed to significant one-off translation losses in case of further manat devaluation which, in some cases, could seriously hit their capital.

"Larger Fitch-rated banks should have sufficient capital to absorb potential credit losses and mitigate FX risks," said the report. "Capitalization at smaller banks is weaker due to: faster recent loan growth (particularly in retail), translating into more rapid capital consumption; moderate earnings due to a lack of scale and growing loan impairment charges; and only limited new equity injections being available from private shareholders."

Manat-denominated liquidity in the sector is fairly tight at present due to the limited inflow of manat-denominated funding. In case of unexpected funding outflows, the banks may also exchange foreign currency for manats at the central bank (which has historically been rather supportive on liquidity). There have been no significant retail deposit outflows at Fitch-rated banks during 2015.

"Structural improvements in the highly cyclical and commodity-dependent economy could give rise to moderate upside potential for banks' ratings," said the report.

There are 43 banks operating in Azerbaijan, and two of them are semi-state ones.

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Follow the author on Twitter: @MaksimTsurkov

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