BIS says Europeans ignored warnings to become largest lenders to SE Asia

International banks ignored warning signs from South-east Asia in the first half of 1997 and continued to lend fresh money to South Korea, figures compiled by the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) show.

Lending by global commercial banks to South Korea, by far the largest debtor of any emerging country, rose by $4.9bn to a total outstanding amount of $103.4bn by mid-1997, the BIS said.

Short-term loans still dominated lending to South Korea with 67.9 per cent of the total amount, or $70.2bn, due to be repaid by mid-1998 or earlier, the BIS said in its semi-annual report on the maturity and nationality of international bank lending.

"In spite of growing strains in South-east Asia, overall bank lending to Asian developing countries showed no evidence of abating in the first half of 1997," said the Swiss-based BIS, banker for the world's central banks.

European banks were the most aggressive lenders to South Korea and Asia in general, with their share of claims on South Korea rising to 35.1 per cent from 30.5 per cent in mid-1996.

South Korea's outstanding debt to all European banks rose to $36.3bn in mid-1997 from $33.8bn at end-1996, according to BIS figures.

Japan's beleaguered banks, still the largest individual group of creditors to South Korea, cut their exposure to $22.9bn from $24.3bn in the same period. Their share of Seoul's debt declined to 22.9 per cent from 24.3 per cent.

German banks had the largest exposure of European banks to South Korea by mid-1997, with outstanding loans of $10.8bn, up from $10.0bn at the end of 1996.

German banks' share of South Korea's outstanding bank loans was 10.4 per cent.

New credits to emerging countries in Asia rose by $32.0bn in the first half of 1997 to $389.4bn with accelerated lending to India, Malaysia and Taiwan.

European banks, which overtook Japanese banks as the main lenders to Asia during the second half of 1995, increased their share of lending to Asia to 43.3 per cent by mid-1997 from 40.4 per cent mid-1996.

Japanese banks, which have been retreating internationally, accounted for 31.8 per cent of lending to Asia in mid-1997, down from 34.2 per cent mid-1996.

European banks had also been expanding in Asia and Latin America at the expense of their traditional markets in Eastern Europe and Africa, the BIS said.

The European advance in Asia has been led by German and French banks, who had a share of 12.1 per cent and 10.4 per cent respectively of an outstanding $389.4bn.

Unlike British banks, whose lending was spread throughout Asia, lending by German and French banks was concentrated, according to the BIS.

"Thus, more than half of the increase in the Asian exposure of German banks was accounted for by Malaysia and China, while in the case of French banks a similar proportion was directed to South Korea."

- Reuters

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