Fitch Downgrades Tsesnabank to ‘B’, Affirms 5 Other Kazakh Banks

Disposal of KMGI Stake is Credit-Neutral for NC KMG

Fitch Ratings-Moscow/London-20 December 2016: Fitch Ratings has downgraded the Long-Term Issuer Default Ratings (IDRs) of Tsesnabank (TSB) to ‘B’ from ‘B+’ and affirmed the Long-Term IDRs of Kazkommertsbank (KKB), Halyk Bank of Kazakhstan (HB), ATF Bank, Bank Centercredit (BCC), and Subsidiary Bank Sberbank of Russia JSC (SBK). The Outlooks are Stable. Fitch has also affirmed one of HB’s domestic subsidiaries, JSC Halyk Finance (HF) with a Stable Outlook and maintained its other, Altyn Bank JSC (AB), on Rating Watch Positive (RWP). A full list of rating actions is at the end of this rating action commentary.

The banks’ Long-Term IDRs are driven by their Viability Ratings (VRs), except SBK whose Long-Term IDRs reflect Fitch’s view of potential support from its parent, Sberbank of Russia (SBR; BBB-/Stable).

KEY RATING DRIVERS – IDRS, VRS, NATIONAL RATINGS
HALYK BANK OF KAZAKHSTAN
The affirmation of HB’s Long-Term IDRs at ‘BB’ and VR at ‘bb’ reflects its strong franchise, solid profitability and capitalisation. The bank’s liquidity cushion is large and refinancing risks are limited, in Fitch’s view. At the same time, the elevated levels of HB’s problem and potentially problematic loans as well as the broader scope of risks inherent in Kazakhstan’s operating environment still constrain HB’s ratings.

Fitch’s view of HB’s sizeable, albeit stable, problem exposures is based on the bank’s non-performing loans (NPLs; loans overdue by more than 90 days) and non-overdue loans which were restructured as otherwise they would have defaulted, comprising 11% and 6% of gross loans, respectively, at end-3Q16. These were only slightly changed from 10% and 8% at end-2015, while coverage of these loans by impairment reserves remained a reasonable 71% at end-3Q16.

Additional asset quality risks stem, in Fitch’s opinion, from HB’s significant lightly reserved foreign currency loans, at 25% of gross loans at end-3Q16. These were not classified in either of the problem categories but a material part was provided to borrowers without foreign currency revenues before the last year’s devaluation of the tenge.

At the same time, HB retains the strongest loss absorption capacity among large Kazakh banks due to its solid pre-impairment profitability and a large buffer of core capital. The bank’s annualised pre-impairment profit, at 7% of average loans in 9M16, was supported by its low funding costs and decent fee income streams. The ratio of HB’s Fitch Core Capital (FCC) to FCC-adjusted risk-weighted assets was 19% at end-3Q16, up from 18% at end-2015, supported by HB’s limited loan growth and its return on average equity at a high 23%.

HB’s liquidity is also the strongest among the peers given its liquid assets of 35% of liabilities at end-3Q16 compared with the Eurobond repayments in 2017 of only USD0.6bn or 5% of liabilities.

KAZKOMMERTSBANK
The affirmation of KKB’s ‘CCC’ Long-term IDR and ‘ccc’ VR reflects Fitch’s view of the bank’s significant distressed assets and modest loss absorption capacity. Positively, KKB’s ratings factor in its recent track record of foreign debt repayments in a relatively stressful environment, and its sufficient liquidity relative to the Eurobond payments forthcoming in 2017.

Fitch’s view of the weak asset quality is driven by KKB’s large loan exposure to BTA, its former subsidiary currently operating as a distressed asset manager, equalling half of KKB’s loans or 6x FCC at end-1H16. Fitch expects only modest cash recoveries from this portfolio in the foreseeable future despite the exposure being reported as performing.

KKB’s NPLs comprised 10% of gross loans at end-3Q16, or 25% of non-BTA loans, and were fully covered by impairment reserves. Nevertheless, a further 10% of gross loans represented potential risks for the bank as these were foreign currency loans mostly provided to unhedged borrowers.

The bank remains structurally loss-making adjusting for uncollected accrued interest income (60% of accrued interest in 1H16) and other low-quality items, and Fitch does not expect this to reverse quickly as a result of new lending. KKB reported net interest income and pre-impairment profits of 4% and 3% of average earning assets, respectively, in 1H16. However, excluding uncollected loan interest, fair-value and currency gains, these results were negative, at 0.2% and 1.2%, respectively. With the same adjustments KKB’s reported net income (ROAE of 23%) would have been a loss of 26% of average equity despite the low loan loss provisions on the BTA exposure.

The FCC ratio was a modest 8.5% at end-1H16, relative to potentially high provisioning requirements on impaired and potentially problematic foreign currency loans and loss-making core performance. KKB’s regulatory 9.3% core Tier 1 and 10.0% Tier 1 ratios at end-October 2016 were slightly below the 9.5% and 10.5% minimum regulatory capital ratios, including buffers, expected to come into effect in 2017. However, Fitch expects KKB to meet the requirements by end-2016 provided that its provisioning policies and the de-facto regulatory forbearance remain unchanged.

Fitch views positively the bank’s extensive track record of repayments on senior and subordinated Eurobonds, including USD0.2bn subordinated notes and USD0.4bn senior Eurobonds during 2016. The November paydown reduced KKB’s liquidity but Fitch believes it remains adequate relative to 2017’s Eurobond repayments. KKB’s high funding concentration and instability of one of its largest depositors are moderately negative.

TSESNABANK
The downgrades of TSB’s Long-Term IDRs to ‘B’ from ‘B+’ and its VR to ‘b’ from ‘b+’ are driven by Fitch’s view of the bank’s deteriorating asset quality and profitability while its capitalisation remains only moderate. Positively, TSB’s ratings consider its recently improved liquidity and the record of it accessing financing from quasi-state sources and state-controlled companies.

TSB’s NPLs and restructured loans at 6% of gross loans and 6%, respectively, at end-3Q16 remained largely unchanged from end-2015. However, higher asset quality risks stem from TSB’s large volume of foreign-currency loans reported as non-impaired (61% of gross loans at end-3Q16) of which about a third (mostly related to early-stage real estate) appears to have not fully serviced principal or interest in 9M16, suggesting these might have turned impaired.

TSB’s annualised pre-impairment profit weakened to 3% of average loans in 9M16 from 4% in 2015. Adjusting for uncollected accrued interest, fair-value and currency gains, it fell to a loss of 1% from 1.4%. Despite being supported by lower provisions, at 1% of average loans in 9M16 and 2% in 2015 the bank’s ROAE dropped to 8% from 16% due to lower currency gains. Fitch estimates that, excluding the low-quality income items, TSB would potentially have net losses of 12% in 9M16 and 7% in 2015.

Capitalisation also provides only modest loss absorption capacity relative to potentially high provisioning requirements. TSB’s FCC ratio slightly improved, to 8.8% at end-3Q16 from 6.8% at end-2015, as a result of an additional share capital injection and low loan growth.

TSB’s liquidity profile improved due to recently strong local currency funding inflows as liquid assets grew to 22% of liabilities at end-3Q16 from 13% at end-2015. This was further supported by a stable share of long-term liabilities, at around two-thirds of total liabilities at end-3Q16.

BANK CENTERCREDIT
The affirmation of BCC’s Long-Term IDRs at ‘B’ and VR at ‘b’ reflects the bank’s still significant problem loans, modest capitalisation, and moderate performance. The ratings benefit to a degree from BCC’s lower than peers’ foreign currency lending (mostly already recognised as impaired), stable and improving domestic deposits base and its improved liquidity position.

BCC’s NPLs reduced to 13% of gross loans at end-3Q16 from 17% at end-2015 due to loan write-offs as well as transfers to an SPV (4% of gross loans at end-3Q16) and restructured loans remained 12%. NPLs and restructured loans were only moderately provisioned by 44% at end-3Q16 meaning continued impairment charges are probable. Lower foreign-currency lending, at 22% of gross loans at end-3Q16, half of which was already recognised as impaired, make BCC’s potential additional asset-quality risks more limited compared with its ‘B’ category peers.

Fitch views the FCC ratio of 7.3% and regulatory core Tier 1 ratio of 7.7% at end-3Q16 as modest relative to potential further provisioning requirements of BCC’s NPLs and restructured loans (1.6x FCC net of total impairment reserves) and non-impaired foreign-currency loans at 1.4x FCC. Hybrid and subordinated debt, equalling a sizeable 7% of risk-weighted assets, could serve as an extra buffer in case of failure.

BCC’s net interest income fell to 2% in 9M16 from 4% in 2015 due to higher funding costs. Pre-impairment profit weakened to 2% of average loans from 4%. Excluding uncollected accrued interest, fair value and currency gains, it fell to a modest 1% from 3%. The pre-impairment profit was almost fully consumed by loan loss provisions as the reported ROAE remained at a modest 4% in 9M16 after 3% in 2015.

Liquidity remains comfortable with liquid assets covering a high 27% of liabilities at end-3Q16. As a result of BCC’s repayment of NBK’s funding recently its non-deposit funding sources fell to insignificant levels.

ATF BANK
The affirmation of ATF’s Long-Term IDRs at ‘B-‘ and VR at ‘b-‘ reflects the bank’s persistently weak asset quality, low capitalisation and only modest core profitability. Fitch believes ATF is also exposed to relatively high liquidity risks considering the possible deposit outflows, partially mitigated by its currently large liquidity cushion.

NPLs remained largely unchanged, at a high 22% of gross loans at end-9M16, while restructured loans decreased slightly, to 17% from 23%, due to property foreclosures and loan write offs. Loan impairment reserves covered NPLs and restructured exposures by a moderate 41% at end-3Q16, mostly relating to a large part of fully provisioned legacy NPLs. In addition, about one-third of gross loans at end-3Q16 were in foreign currencies. Although reported as non-impaired, Fitch believes most of these loans represent a source of high impairment risk for the bank.

The FCC ratio slightly improved, to a moderate 9.8% at end-9M16 from 7.4% at end-2015, due to limited new lending. However, Fitch still views capitalisation as weak given the high downside risks in unreserved problem loans (2.0x FCC at end-3Q16), non-impaired foreign-currency loans (1.1x FCC), as well as potentially high valuation risks relating to ATF’s foreclosed property (1.2x FCC). Subordinated debts at 10% of risk-weighted assets at end-3Q16 provide a moderate loss absorption cushion for senior creditors in case of failure.

Pre-impairment profit remained stable, at an annualised 3% of average earning assets in 9M16. Excluding the uncollected accrued interest, fair value and currency gains, it fell to a slim 0.7% from 2% in 2015. ROAE remained at a low 6% as most of the pre-impairment profits was utilised for creating reserves.

Liquid assets built up to a high 37% of liabilities at end-3Q16 from slightly over 20% at end-2015 despite USD0.3bn Eurobond repayment during 2016 with no senior or dated subordinated outstanding Eurobonds currently remaining. However, Fitch believes deposits of ATF’s largest depositor, 18% of liabilities at end-3Q16, could be highly unstable representing significant risks for the bank.

SB SBERBANK OF RUSSIA
The affirmation of SBK’s ‘BB+’ Long-term IDRs and ‘3’ Support Rating reflects Fitch’s view of the moderate probability of potential support from the parent bank based on the strategic importance of the CIS region for SBR and the small size of SBK relative to its parent.

The affirmation of SBK’s VR reflects Fitch’s view that its credit profile is still consistent with the ‘b+’ level, mainly thanks to the ordinary benefits of support from SBR as well as still decent core profitability and comfortable liquidity, despite the recent continued weakening of asset quality and capitalisation.

SBK’s NPLs continued increasing, to 11.5% of gross loans at end-3Q16 from 8% at end-3Q15, while restructured loans surged to 37% from 27%. Loan impairment reserves improved only slightly to 9% from 7% of gross loans for the period. SBK plans to raise reserves significantly in 2017, but Fitch understands that this might not be sufficient as additional non-impaired foreign-currency loans, equalling 14% of gross loans at end-3Q16, could add to the bank’s problem exposures.

SBK’s performance remains solid as IFRS pre-impairment profit improved to an 6% of average loans in 9M16 from 5% in 2015 (4% from 3%, respectively, if uncollected interest earnings, fair-value and currency gains were excluded) as annualised operating expenses fell by 20%. ROAE also slightly improved to 6% in 9M16 from 2% in 2015 due to moderate loan loss provisions.

The FCC ratio slightly improved, to 11.8% at end-3Q16 from 9.3% at end-2015, due to limited new lending but remain weak compared with potentially high provisioning requirements for unreserved impaired loans (1.8x FCC) and potentially problematic foreign currency loans (0.6x FCC).

Liquid assets coverage of liabilities of 35% at end-3Q16 has remained stable in recent months despite significant outflows of non-retail deposits. An unutilised credit line available from the parent of 18% of SBK’s liabilities at end-3Q16 would make unexpected funding outflows more manageable for SBK.

HB’S SUBSIDIARIES
ALTYN BANK
The RWP on AB’s ‘BB’ IDRs and ‘A+(kaz) ‘National Long-Term rating reflects the upside potential for these ratings from an acquisition of a 60% equity stake in the bank by China Citic Bank (CCB; BBB/Stable) in 2017. Fitch also expects that AB would be supported, if needed, by HB, which currently owns 100% of AB’s ordinary shares. HB signed a memorandum of understanding with CCB in November 2016.

Fitch has not assigned AB a Viability Rating given the evolving business model following AB’s acquisition by HB in 2014 and potential further transformations after the change of its controlling shareholder.

HALYK FINANCE
HF’s ‘BB’ Long-term IDRs are aligned with the ratings of its parent as Fitch considers HF a core subsidiary of HB. This opinion is based on HF’s prominent market positions in investment banking and brokerage services to domestic clients and significant potential reputational risks for HB should its subsidiary default on obligations. HF’s moderate size at 1% of HB’s total assets at end-3Q16, and its healthy balance sheet make it relatively easy to support.

DEBT RATINGS
Senior unsecured debt ratings are aligned with Long-Term IDRs based on average recovery expectations. Recoveries for senior creditors of defaulted Kazakh banks (typically in the 30%-50% range) have depended on the extent to which the authorities supported banks’ restructurings with capital injections, and so were essentially the outcome of political decisions.

Dated subordinated debt ratings are notched down by one level from the banks’ Long-Term IDRs. The perpetual debt ratings of KKB, BCC and ATF are rated two notches lower, reflecting greater non-performance risk and more limited recovery expectations. Kazakh banks’ subordinated issues do not currently envisage any formal loss absorption triggers, but in Fitch’s view would be likely to absorb losses if in the regulator’s view the bank had ceased to be viable.

SUPPORT RATINGS (SR) AND SUPPORT RATING FLOORS (SRFS)
Fitch’s baseline SRF for domestic systemically important banks at ‘B-‘ reflects the agency’s view that large-scale capital support would be unlikely to be forthcoming for any Kazakh commercial banks, given the history of defaults by systemic banks and other institutions. Nevertheless, Fitch expects most banks in Kazakhstan to continue benefiting from liquidity and other financial assistance provided by the state and quasi-state sources.

HB’s SRF of ‘B’ and SR of ‘4’ reflects its exceptionally high systemic importance, based on its large 17% deposit market share and by far the largest regional branch network, which in addition to its solid political connections make moderate state support possible.

KKB’s ‘No Floor’ SRF is based on Fitch’s expectations that support from the Kazakh authorities in the amount sufficient to address the bank’s large asset quality and capitalisation problems without senior creditors facing losses remains unreliable.

SRFs of ‘No Floor’ and SRs at ‘5’ of TSB, ATF and BCC reflect these bank’s moderate market shares, from 6% to 9% of system deposits at end-3Q16 and, therefore, these banks’ non-systemic status.

RATING SENSITIVITIES
IDRS, NATIONAL RATINGS AND SENIOR DEBT
The VR-driven Long-Term IDRs would mainly be sensitive to changes in the banks’ asset quality and capitalisation parameters. Significant liquidity deterioration and weakening of core profitability would be negative.

The Long-Term IDRs of SBK and HF would likely change in tandem with the ratings of their respective parents. AB’s ratings could be upgraded upon its acquisition by CCB which may take more than six months to complete.

Debt ratings would change with their respective anchor ratings.]

The rating actions are as follows:
HB
Long-Term Foreign and Local Currency IDRs: affirmed at ‘BB’; Outlook Stable
Short-Term Foreign and Local Currency IDRs: affirmed at ‘B’
Viability Rating: affirmed at ‘bb’
Support Rating: affirmed at ‘4’
Support Rating Floor: affirmed at ‘B’
Senior unsecured debt: affirmed at ‘BB’

KKB
Long-Term Foreign and Local Currency IDRs: affirmed at ‘CCC’
Short-Term Foreign and Local Currency IDRs: affirmed at ‘C’
Viability Rating: affirmed at ‘ccc’
Support Rating: affirmed at ‘5’
Support Rating Floor: affirmed at ‘No Floor’
Senior unsecured debt long-term rating: affirmed at ‘CCC’; Recovery Rating at ‘RR4’
Senior unsecured debt short-term rating: affirmed at ‘C’
Dated subordinated debt: affirmed at ‘CC’; Recovery Rating at ‘RR5’
Perpetual debt: affirmed at ‘C’; Recovery Rating at ‘RR6’

TSB
Long-Term Foreign and Local Currency IDRs: downgraded to ‘B’ from ‘B+’; Outlook Stable
Short-Term Foreign and Local Currency IDRs: affirmed at ‘B’
National Long-Term rating: downgraded to ‘BB+(kaz)’ from ‘BBB-(kaz)’; Outlook Stable
Viability Rating: downgraded to ‘b’ from ‘b+’
Support Rating: affirmed at ‘5’
Support Rating Floor: affirmed at ‘No Floor’
Senior unsecured debt: downgraded to ‘B’ from ‘B+’; Recovery Rating at ‘RR4’
Subordinated debt: downgraded to ‘B-‘ from ‘B’; Recovery Rating at ‘RR5’

ATF
Long-Term Foreign and Local Currency IDRs: affirmed at ‘B-‘; Outlook Stable
Short-Term IDR: affirmed at ‘B’
National Long-Term rating: affirmed at ‘BB-(kaz)’; Outlook Stable
Viability Rating: affirmed at ‘b-‘
Support Rating: affirmed at ‘5’
Support Rating Floor: affirmed at ‘No Floor’
Senior unsecured debt: affirmed at ‘B-‘/’BB-(kaz)’; Recovery Rating at ‘RR4’
Dated subordinated debt: affirmed at ‘CCC’; Recovery Rating at ‘RR5’
Perpetual debt: affirmed at ‘CC’; Recovery Rating at ‘RR6’

SBK
Long-Term Foreign and Local Currency IDRs: affirmed at ‘BB+’; Outlook Stable
Short-Term IDR: affirmed at ‘B’
National Long-Term rating: affirmed at ‘AA-(kaz)’; Outlook Stable
Viability Rating: affirmed at ‘b+’
Support Rating: affirmed at ‘3’
Senior unsecured debt: affirmed at ‘BB+’/’AA-(kaz)’
Subordinated debt: affirmed at ‘BB’/’A+(kaz)’

BCC
Long-Term Foreign and Local Currency IDRs: affirmed at ‘B’; Outlook Stable
Short-Term IDR: affirmed at ‘B’
National Long-Term rating: affirmed at ‘BB+(kaz)’; Outlook Stable
Viability Rating: affirmed at ‘b’
Support Rating: affirmed at ‘5’
Support Rating Floor: affirmed at ‘No Floor’
Senior unsecured debt: affirmed at ‘B’/’BB+(kaz)’; Recovery Rating at ‘RR4’
Dated subordinated debt: affirmed at ‘B-‘/’BB-(kaz)’; Recovery Rating at ‘RR5’
Perpetual debt rating: affirmed at ‘CCC’; Recovery Rating at ‘RR6’

AB
Long-Term Foreign and Local Currency IDRs: ‘BB’; maintained on RWP
Short-Term IDR: ‘B’; maintained on RWP
National Long-Term Rating: ‘A+(kaz)’; maintained on RWP
Support Rating: ‘3’; maintained on RWP

HF
Long-Term Foreign and Local Currency IDRs: affirmed at ‘BB’; Outlook Stable
Short-Term Foreign and Local Currency IDRs: affirmed at ‘B’
Support Rating: affirmed at ‘3’

Contact:
Primary Analyst
Roman Kornev
Director
+7 495 956 7016
Fitch Ratings CIS Ltd
26 Valovaya Street
Moscow 115054

Secondary Analysts
Sergey Popov, CFA (HB, ATF, BCC, AB, HF)
Associate Director
+7 495 956 9981

Maria Kuraeva (KKB, SBK, TSB)
Associate Director
+7 495 956 9901

Committee Chairperson
Olga Ignatieva
Senior Director
+7 495 956 6906

Media Relations: Elaine Bailey, London, Tel: +44 203 530 1153, Email: elaine.bailey@fitchratings.com; Julia Belskaya von Tell, Moscow, Tel: +7 495 956 9908, Email: julia.belskayavontell@fitchratings.com.

Additional information is available on www.fitchratings.com

Applicable Criteria
Global Bank Rating Criteria (pub. 25 Nov 2016)

Additional Disclosures
Dodd-Frank Rating Information Disclosure Form
Solicitation Status
Endorsement Policy

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