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31 Aug 2006
Moody's reports: stable outlook for Dutch banks but risks remain
London, 31 August 2006 -- The overall outlook for rated Dutch banks remains stable, as a result
of the sector's generally adequate and steady profitability,
robust regulatory framework and mature financial framework, Moody's
Investors Service says in its new Banking System Outlook report for the
Netherlands. While Moody's does not rule out selective rating
upgrades or downgrades, it would expect these to be driven primarily
by changes in ownership or because of acquisitions.
Moody's anticipates that the three leading banks -- ABN AMRO
(Aa3/P-1/B), ING Bank (Aa2/P-1/B+) and Rabobank
(Aaa/P-1/A) -- will maintain their dominance of the Dutch
banking market, even though the smaller players may succeed in marginally
increasing their market share in segments such as mortgages. No
significant realignments in product pricing or regulatory developments
are viewed as probable, with the three large banks therefore likely
to retain their entrenched position.
The economy has been recovering from a rough patch in 2001-2003
and looks set to grow robustly until at least 2008, fuelled in part
by strengthening consumer confidence -- a factor that has
helped the recovery of the retail and service sectors. Credit growth,
led by large companies, has picked up to levels not seen since 2001
and Moody's expects the SME segment to start increasing its borrowing
"Profitability trends for Dutch banks have been positive since 2005.
The main drivers for the positive earnings trends have been lower provisions
for credit losses and the continued -- albeit modest --
decline in operating expenses," says Lynn Exton, a Moody's
Senior Vice President and author of the report. "However,
we anticipate that provision expenses will rise during H2 2006 as the
positive tailwinds from credit provisions taken in earlier periods are
largely exhausted. To maintain their earnings momentum, banks
will thus need to make continued improvements in their operating efficiency
and raise the proportion of fees and commissions."
One area in which fees and commissions have been rising strongly is residential
mortgage prepayments and refinancing activity, as house prices continue
to rise and Dutch households use the equity in their homes to finance
consumer spending. This has led to household debt rising to with
household debt (defined as gross indebtedness to net disposable income)
standing at 117% of GDP as of year-end 2005, up from
76% in 1998, according to the statistics compiled by the
IMF. However, this needs to be viewed in the context of a
similar rise in the value of homeownership. Furthermore,
the level of unsecured personal loans is relatively low, translating
into most household debt being mortgage-related, Moody's
explains. Nevertheless, the trend of rising household indebtedness
is of concern as Dutch households will face the same financial pressures
of higher interest rates and increased energy costs as their brethren
in other countries over the next year.
Indeed, while Van der Hoop bankiers N.V. (not rated)
went into involuntary liquidation in 2005, this was the first bank
failure in the Netherlands since 1982 and the sector remains fundamentally
solid. "The recurring earnings of the three large banks are
in line with those of their highly rated counterparts in other European
countries, with the notable exceptions of the UK and Spain,"
says Ms Exton. "Furthermore, the mature, liberalised
and competitive nature of the Dutch financial system militates against
any material change or systemic shock that would undermine the position
of the incumbents."
Another key rating consideration is the considerable differences between
the respective business profiles of the various banks. For example,
ABN AMRO earns most of its money outside the Netherlands, Rabobank
is primarily a domestic bank but with material and growing overseas operations
whilst the smaller banks tend to be wholly focused on Dutch business.
Given the limited growth potential of their domestic market, all
the major Dutch banks now have important international operations,
Senior Vice President
Financial Institutions Group
Moody's Investors Service Ltd.
JOURNALISTS: 44 20 7772 5456
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Financial Institutions Group
Moody's Investors Service Ltd.
JOURNALISTS: 44 20 7772 5456
SUBSCRIBERS: 44 20 7772 5454
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