The head of one of the largest banks in central and eastern Europe has insisted that the region is far better prepared for external shocks than it was three years ago, despite grave warnings by senior regional economists and policymakers.
We are utterly prepared for a downturn,
Herbert Stepic, CEO of Raiffeisen International, told Emerging Markets. There have been big changes in banks managements [since 2008]. We have built up substantial levels of liquidity, and, in the riskier countries, of capital.
Since the 2008 crisis, countries [in central and eastern Europe] have improved, economies have improved, the liquidity situation has improved ... and we have learned lessons, he added.
Stepic was also optimistic about the regions ability to withstand fallout from the eurozone and possible global economic stagnation.
Central and eastern Europe share the benefits, and also the sacrifices of their western European trading partners primarily Germany, the main export market for many. Even in a downturn, I dont think Germany faces disaster, he said.
Stepic emphasized that Raiffeisen remained fully committed to its lending business in the region, despite growing concerns about the potential for western European parent banks to withdraw liquidity from subsidiaries in central and eastern European should the European banking crisis escalate.
Responsible investors would do what they could, instead of adding to the flow of negative information, that itself adds to the downturn, he added.
Asked whether he expected Raiffeisens loan book to grow next year, Stepic admitted that in the first half, if GDP growth continues as forecast, there will not be demand, and there will not be demand for loans. That will mean flat, stale growth.
Many senior economists, policymakers and banking chiefs are much less confident about the regions ability to withstand an escalation of the eurozone crisis than Stepic.
We need to be realistic: if western European markets dont recover, if the debt crisis hits further countries, then central and eastern Europe cannot be isolated from this, said György Surányi, head of Italian bank Intesa Sanpaolos CEE operations. The fundamentals are stronger, but we may not return to pre-crisis fast growth levels soon or ever.
Furthermore, senior policymakers in the region warn that the Vienna Initiative, an agreement between policymakers and banks implemented in 2009 to prevent a withdrawal of liquidity from central and eastern European subsidiaries by parent banks, will prove ineffective should the current banking crisis escalate.The Vienna Initiative was a good project and it served its purpose. But today the situation is completely different, Polish central bank governor Marek Belka told Emerging Markets. We now need to deal with the risk of a troubled mother driving her daughters into a hole.