Sberbank Boss: Russian Banks Safe From Coronavirus

The head of Sberbank, Herman Gref, said in an interview on Tuesday that he doesn’t expect Russian banks to be seriously affected by the coronavirus lockdowns.

The CEO of the country’s biggest lender added, however, that Russia’s economy is expected to contract progressively, with stress tests by Sberbank showing GDP could fall by as much as 15% if oil prices drop below $10 per barrel or touch zero.

“But even in such a scenario, Sberbank would remain profitable and would not request state support,” Gref told federal lawmaker Andrei Makarov in the interview.

The COVID-19 crisis and the crash of oil prices have battered Russia’s energy-dependent economy, which the International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects to contract 5.5% this year.

U.S. crude oil futures plunged into negative territory for the first time in history on Monday. Russia’s flagship Urals crude oil blend prices URL-NWE-E URL-E fell below $10 per barrel on Tuesday.

Gref said the general population and small and medium-sized companies should be the ones to receive support first. Banks can survive for this year at least, he said.

“This crisis is not (yet) a banking crisis,” he said. “It starts with a pandemic, continues with the economy and ends with banks. Banks will face serious consequences, but they are third in the chain.”

Bank of Russia Governor Elvira Nabiullina has also said Russian banks were expected to remain profitable and there was no need to provide extra capital to Russian lenders.

Russia’s Finance Ministry has earmarked 2.8% of the GDP – or around 3 trillion roubles ($40 billion) — to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, an amount analysts say is significantly lower than what was spent on a rescue package during the 2008 financial crisis.

Gref said that thanks to Russia’s relatively low state debt, the country could allow itself to spend up to 10% of its GDP to fight the coronavirus and its fallout.

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