Back to black: Russian banks return to profit
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Back to black: Russian banks return to profit

Against the odds the sector has weathered the economic downturn and is now poised to show healthy growth as the country emerges from recession. Guy Norton reports.

IT CAN OFTEN seem as if Russians like nothing better than to disappoint people. Sometimes that’s no bad thing. Based on previous form the sharp downturn in Russia’s economic fortunes following the onset of the global credit crunch and associated recession in 2008 meant some observers felt it was extremely likely that a large number of banks would go to the wall, leaving in their wake millions of disgruntled depositors, creditors and investors.

In August 1998, following the sovereign’s debt default, that’s exactly what had happened, when the Russian government and Russian bank owners showed an alarming willingness to walk away from their financial obligations.

Based on those bitter memories it’s perhaps no surprise that there were widespread assumptions that there would be a repeat performance in 2008/09.

But dire assumptions about another financial sector bloodbath have largely proved to be wildly wide of the mark. There has been a fair share of pain, with last year’s worst economic contraction since the Soviet Union’s 1991 collapse spurring bankruptcies and defaults along the way. But there is now a clear consensus that both the Kremlin and the banks in Russia have passed the test of the latest economic crisis, if not quite with flying colours then at least with their financial credibility greatly enhanced.

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