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Rating Action:

Moody's changes outlook on Zagrebacka Banka (Croatia) to negative

14 Apr 2009

Limassol, April 14, 2009 -- Moody's Investors Service has today changed to negative from stable the outlook on the D+ bank financial strength rating (BFSR) of Zagrebacka Banka (Croatia) (ZABA). At the same time, the outlook on the bank's A2/Prime-1 global local currency (GLC) deposit ratings, and its A2 long-term foreign currency debt rating were similarly changed to negative from stable. The bank's foreign currency deposit ratings remain capped by Croatia's foreign currency deposit ceiling and were affirmed at Ba1/Not Prime.

Moody's notes that today's rating actions reflect the increasingly negative impact of the global economic crisis on the Croatian economy and rising risks related to the country's financial institutions. The rating agency notes in particular that the projected slowdown of the economy during 2009, expectations for much reduced foreign investment and the country's substantial refinancing needs (in foreign currency) have -- since October 2008 -- exerted material pressure on the Croatian kuna exchange rate. Previous years' strict central bank regulation including very high reserve requirements particularly on external bank funding -- to curb credit growth and contain the private sector's mounting external debt -- created a buffer that enabled the central bank to successfully defend the currency, to date; nonetheless, intervention in the currency market has caused wide fluctuation of kuna interest rates on the interbank market, from just over 0% to over 37% between January and April 2009.

Given the high euroisation of Croatia's financial sector, a potential devaluation of the kuna would likely have considerable implications for both the country's financial sector and the real economy. Moody's notes that foreign currency funding accounts for around 71% of ZABA's group liabilities, while foreign-currency-denominated or foreign-currency-linked lending stood at around 72% of the group's loan book as at YE 2008.

The outlook on ZABA's ratings is affected by the fact that (despite maintaining a matched foreign currency position) asset quality problems would rise in the event of a devaluation of the kuna (as un-hedged debt-servicing obligations of foreign currency borrowers rise in kuna terms, while rising inflation further weakens customers' financial circumstances, particularly retail customers). Likewise, the negative outlook takes into account that even in the absence of a kuna devaluation scenario the performance of the bank during 2009 is expected to reflect the performance of the Croatian economy. Concerns are growing regarding the potential increase of credit costs, particularly in relation to ZABA's large mortgage loan book as well as its exposures to the construction and real estate sectors (whose performance appears increasingly lacklustre following recent years of dynamic growth). The bank's solid retail deposit base notwithstanding, prospects of potentially higher funding costs -- partly due to widening spreads on parental funding and partly due to the fluctuation of kuna interest rates -- also support the negative outlook. Although ZABA remains strongly capitalised, the extent to which the aforementioned affect its performance would exert downward pressure on the bank's BFSR.

Given the bank's size and importance to the system, Moody's continues to assess as "very high" the likelihood that the Croatian authorities would extend systemic support to Zagrebacka banka in case of need. Nonetheless, Moody's notes that current pressures on Croatian banks are of a systemic nature, placing demands on state resources. Given the high degree of euroisation of the Croatian financial sector, its stability has in recent months become increasingly dependent on the authority's capacity to maintain foreign exchange stability by using state reserves which are not unlimited.

Meanwhile, the global financial sector crisis has affected the performance of Unicredito (ZABA's ultimate parent, through Bank Austria), and is giving rise to concerns over the group's exposure to Eastern Europe. Nevertheless, although the group announced that it is currently suspending any plans for further growth in the region, Moody's has not altered its parental support assumptions for ZABA. Importantly, the rating agency notes that given the bank's foreign ownership, ZABA has access to resourses -- independent of the state -- to meet its own obligations. The outlook on ZABA's GLC deposit and foreign currency debt ratings has been changed to negative from stable, although the ratings continue to reflect both systemic and parental support.

Moody's previous rating action on ZABA was implemented on 25 November 2008, when the outlook on the bank's Ba1/Not Prime foreign currency deposit ratings was changed to stable from positive -- reflecting a similar change to the outlook on Croatia's foreign currency bank deposit ceiling.

The principal methodologies used in rating ZABA are "Bank Financial Strength Ratings: Global Methodology" and "Incorporation of Joint-Default Analysis into Moody's Bank Ratings: A Refined Methodology", which can be found at www.moodys.com in the Credit Policy & Methodologies directory, in the Ratings Methodologies subdirectory. Other methodologies and factors that may have been considered in the process of rating this issuer can also be found in the Credit Policy & Methodologies directory.

Headquartered in Zagreb, the Zagrebacka Banka Group had total assets of EUR14.2 billion at the end of 2008.

Limassol
Mardig Haladjian
General Manager
Financial Institutions Group
Moody's Investors Service Cyprus Limited
JOURNALISTS: 44 20 7772 5456
SUBSCRIBERS: 44 20 7772 5454

Limassol
Stathis A. Kyriakides, CFA
Asst Vice President - Analyst
Financial Institutions Group
Moody's Investors Service Cyprus Limited
JOURNALISTS: 44 20 7772 5456
SUBSCRIBERS: 44 20 7772 5454

Moody's changes outlook on Zagrebacka Banka (Croatia) to negative
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