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Russian loan club defies events — for now

By Dan Alderson
28 Aug 2014

The efforts of six or seven European banks to keep the Russian loan markets afloat, despite a worsening outlook, were rewarded this week: Gazprom Neft requested bank proposals on a new five year money loan. But normalisation is further off than ever.

There might be something commendable, at least in respect of non-state companies, about western banks insisting they are committed to Russia in the long term and won't be put off by transitory upheavals. But, such professions of loyalty aside, European banks are of course also looking after themselves.

When it comes to CEEMEA loans, no other player in town comes close to filling the gap Russia leaves in the banks' books. No wonder they are determined not to pull the plug.

Banks can find reasons for optimism. Loans have not yet been sanctioned, nor have most Russian borrowers — and, should it come to that, deals in currencies other than dollars are an option. If one or two deals look like getting done, the participating banks reason, then other banks will surely want to get back on board and, in time, a functional market might return.

But such rationalisations aside, the outlook for the Russian loan market is undeniably getting worse. The conflict in Ukraine is escalating, not abating. This week’s summit in Minsk achieved nothing except a photo of Putin, complete with menacing smile, shaking Poroshenko’s hand while the crowd watched in rapt horror.

JP Morgan said this week that optimism about Ukraine was inflated. Yet that it managed to find any optimism at all amid the unsettling political overtures, including a possible military invasion, is remarkable.

But six or seven banks aren't enough for a loan market, and with optimism dwindling further, those still putting on a brave face won't find any of their peers joining them soon.

By Dan Alderson
28 Aug 2014