Kazakh Bank Risk Is Diminishing, Economy Bottomed Out, UBS Says

Nov. 18. Bloomberg

By Stephen Kirkland and Tasneem Brogger

Kazakhstan bank asset quality is improving as the economic outlook picks up and provisions for non-performing loans level off, according to UBS AG.

“The period of rapid buffer creation against non- performing loans will be over before the end of the year and 2010 will see a return to normalized earnings,” UBS wrote in a report today.

Kazakhstan has invested $19 billion, or 14 percent of gross domestic product, to rescue its lenders and support the economy since the end of 2007. The country holds about half of all emerging market distressed debt, according to David Spegel, head of emerging market strategy at ING Financial Bank NV in New York.

The economy of central Asia’s biggest energy producer contracted 2.2 percent in the first nine months, compared with a 2.3 percent decline in the half year, the State Statistics Agency said yesterday.

“The Kazakh economy has bottomed out and has already returned to growth. We project that the economy will expand 1.5 percent in 2009 and another 5 percent in 2010,” UBS said.

The former Soviet state, which holds 3.2 percent of world oil reserves, is benefiting from a 78 percent gain in the price of crude this year that’s helping offset the impact of bank losses. Kazakhstan’s oil production increased 7.8 percent in the first 10 months to 63 million metric tons, the statistics office said on Nov. 12.

“The strong rebound in commodity prices, strong production growth in the oil sector and government led anti-crisis spending have resulted in the reversal of negative economic trends in Kazakhstan,” UBS said. The bank expects GDP to expand 1.5 percent this year and 5 percent in 2010.

Tenge Band

A rise in output from the country’s biggest oil producer TengizChevroil LLP probably supported a recent gain in oil and gas production, the Economist Intelligence Unit said on Nov. 13. The government’s 2009 target of producing 75 million tons of oil, compared with 70.6 million tons last year, should be “comfortably achievable,” according to the EIU.

Kazakhstan’s central bank, which manages the tenge against a central target of 150 against the dollar, may allow the currency to appreciate, Governor Grigori Marchenko said on Nov. 11, after oil price gains attracted investors. The tenge has gained 1.1 percent against the dollar in the past month.

The bank will extend the trading band around the tenge’s peg from 2010 and the currency “ought to appreciate,” Marchenko said last week. The central bank must decide “whether the corridor will be 150 tenge minus 30 tenge and plus 20 tenge per dollar, or a different rate,” he added.

Grain Harvest

The country is also benefiting from its grain harvests, which have exceeded previous years’ crops. This year’s harvest was a record 21 million tons, up 20 percent from 2008, President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s office said on Oct. 2.

“The impressive harvest this year will provide some support to the rate of real GDP growth,” the EIU said.