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Announcement:

MOODY'S REPORTS: CROATIAN BANKING SYSTEM IS STRENGTHENING, AIDED BY FOREIGN OWNERS, ALTHOUGH CHALLENGES PERSIST

29 Jun 2005
MOODY'S REPORTS: CROATIAN BANKING SYSTEM IS STRENGTHENING, AIDED BY FOREIGN OWNERS, ALTHOUGH CHALLENGES PERSIST

Limassol, June 29, 2005 -- The Croatian banking system boasts an improved and increasing level of stability thanks to a radical recapitalisation and restructuring process through which foreign-owned banks now dominate the sector, with a positive impact on overall creditworthiness, Moody's Investors Service says in its new Banking System Outlook report for Croatia. Strong household credit demand is driving the growth of the sector, although key challenges persist such as the high concentration of assets among larger banks and potential risks from increasing net external liabilities. In addition, despite improvements, the operating environment remains challenging, with notable lengthy judicial system.

"The banks' foreign owners -- which account for 91% of total assets in the system -- have not only provided direct financial support but also improved efficiency levels and risk management techniques and introduced more up-to-date services and instruments," says Nondas Nicolaides, a Moody's Analyst and author of the report. Nonetheless, the system remains highly concentrated, with the two largest banks controlling around 43% of assets. In addition, despite the consolidation that has taken place to date, Croatia's remains somewhat over-banked. Although further consolidation and the exit of weaker players would improve the quality and stability of the system, Moody's expects no dramatic change in this respect over the medium term.

A key driver of banks' growth in recent years has been the notable surge in household credit demand, as Croatia's middle class has expanded and become increasingly vibrant. Although Moody's views this focus positively as retail loans appear to be more profitable and are generally less risky than corporate loans, the high growth rates in this segment and the fact that such lending has yet to be tested in a full economic cycle give rise to a degree of caution.

The system benefits from a strengthened regulatory framework, with effective supervision -- a key element given Croatia's EU membership ambitions. "The authorities have also demonstrated their willingness to support troubled banks, although certain depositors have lost money from banks in receivership. Nonetheless, the operating environment remains relatively challenging despite marked macroeconomic improvements, with a relatively slow legal framework a key feature," Nicolaides adds.

Moody's regards the Croatian banking system's asset quality as relatively healthy, limiting risks of a systemic banking collapse and ensuring the efficient use of capital and liquidity. Despite the rapid asset growth of recent years, the larger banks have good risk management systems and credit scoring tools with which to prudently assess credit risk and their overall exposures.

Although Moody's expects margins to continue to fall as local currency interest rates start to converge with the corresponding euro interest rates, the banking system's profitability has improved significantly since the losses reported in 1998 thanks to a more conducive operating environment, a surge in business volumes as well as the enhanced risk management framework in place. In addition, Moody's feels confident that liquidity levels in the banking system are reasonably sufficient given its risk profile and that asset/liability structures are prudently managed to meet short-term obligations. However, the high percentage of foreign currency liabilities gives rise to a significant risk in the event of a possible movement in foreign exchange rates against the local currency, although support should be expected from the foreign parent banks in such a scenario.

Moody's currently rates one private-sector Croatian bank (Zagrebacka banka, Ba1/N-P bank deposit ratings, stable outlook; A2 senior unsecured debt rating, on review for possible downgrade; D+ bank financial strength rating, positive outlook) and one government-owned institution (HBOR, Baa3 foreign currency debt rating, stable outlook). In addition, several of the foreign owners of Croatian banks, mainly European investment-grade banking groups, are also rated by Moody's.

* * * * *

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS ONLY: For a copy of this report, please contact Daniel Piels in London on +44-20-7772-5456; New York Press Information +1-212-553-0376; Juan Pablo Soriano in Madrid +34-91-310-1454; Henry MacNevin in Milan +39-02-5821-5580; Detlef Scholz in Frankfurt +49-69-707-30-700; Adel Satel in Limassol +357-25-586-586; Hector Lim in Sydney +612 9270 8102; Tokyo Press Information +813-5408-4110; Hilary Parkes in Toronto +1-416-214-1635; Hong Kong Press Information +852-2916-1150; Luiz Tess in São Paulo +55-11-3443-7444; Benito Solis in Mexico City +5255-9171-1817; Jose Fenner in Buenos Aires +54 11-4816-2332 ext. 118; or Reynold Leegerstee in Johannesburg +27-11-217-5471 or visit our web site at www.moodys.com

Limassol
Adel Satel
Managing Director
Financial Institutions Group
Moody's Investors Service Cyprus Limited
JOURNALISTS: 44 20 7772 5456
SUBSCRIBERS: 44 20 7772 5454

Limassol
Nondas Nicolaides
Analyst
Financial Institutions Group
Moody's Investors Service Cyprus Limited
JOURNALISTS: 44 20 7772 5456
SUBSCRIBERS: 44 20 7772 5454

No Related Data.
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