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Banks hit by Russian woe

German lenders prepare to increase provisions to cover $30bn exposure after seeing their share prices drop
EUROPEAN BANKS are preparing to make further hefty provisions to cover their exposure to emerging markets after the latest bout of economic turmoil, according to City analysts.

German banks, which have substantial exposure to Russia, are likely to be worst hit, analysts said. According to figures released by the Bank for International Settlements (BIS), German banks have lent nearly $30bn (pounds 18.6bn) to the troubled region.

Shares in German banks were marked down sharply after the Russian market plunged on what the local media dubbed "Black Thursday".

One analyst commented: "The sector that we are most concerned about is the German banking sector. Russia is not really an issue for other European banks, with the possible exception of Austria."

BIS data shows that banks in Austria have lent around $3.8bn to Russia. Banks in the UK, by contrast, have lent just $584m to the troubled region.

One German banking analyst said: "The jury on Russia is still out, but it wouldn't surprise me at all to see more provisions in the second half."

The renewed crisis in Asia has also sparked worries about bank provisioning. Piers Brown, at Rabobank, said: "There are two areas at the moment where there may potentially be significant problems. The first is Russia, and the other, of course, is Asia."

Data from the BIS shows that Japanese banks are among the most heavily exposed to Asia, with total lending of $123.8bn. Banks in the UK have lent around $30bn. The last banking reporting season saw many European banks up their provisions following "round 2" of the Asian crisis at Easter. With most experts of the view that "round 3" of Asia is now in full swing, analysts expect banks to increase their provisions further this year.

Most analysts agreed that although the German banking exposure to Russia was an issue of concern, the degree of the stock market reaction last week was overdone.

Matthew Czepliewicz, at Salomon Smith Barney, said: "The German banking exposure is, at first sight, a very large $30bn. But when you start to disaggregate it, the figures are less worrying."

Private German banks account for much of the $30bn exposure, according to Mr Czepliewicz, who reckons that the exposure of the major traded German banks comes to between DM6bn and DM7bn (pounds 2bn-pounds 2.4bn).

Of this total, over half is trade related and is guaranteed by German government schemes, according to analysts. Of the remainder, Mr Czepliewicz calculates that "big three" German banks have a combined non-guaranteed exposure of DM2.6bn (pounds 900m). Deutsche Bank has an estimated non-guaranteed exposure of DM1bn, Dresdner Bank of DM700m and Commerzbank of DM900m. And all these banks have already made provisions to cover this exposure, which is broadly spread over a number of different sectors, according to the analysts.

Mr Czepliewicz said: "The market has over-reacted by significantly marking down German bank shares. The same applies to the Austrian banks, which have suffered more unfairly than the Germans." Another analyst, who declined to be named, remarked: "We are of the view that Asia is of more concern than Russia. We expect banks to have to take more cover there. If the yen weakens substantially, or the yuan devalues banks will require significantly more provisions."

Mr Brown, at Rabobank, said: "The Russian exposure issue has been a bit overblown. The exposure [for German banks] is generally lower than in Asia, and it is better covered."

Nevertheless, serious questions hang over the ability of some of the private savings banks to cope with the crisis.