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Polish banks had their best year ever in 2004. The business environment dramatically improved from the tough years of 2002 and 2003, when interest rates fell from 10% to 5.25% in 24 months, and large corporate bankruptcies, such as the Szczecin Shipyard, weighed heavily on banks' balance sheets.
Now, consumer spending has rebounded, and banks are making enormous profits from consumer loans and mortgages. The bank doing best in this sector is Bank Austria's BPH PBK. However, analysts warn that the bank might be being slightly too aggressive in its marketing of Swiss franc – denominated – mortgages, which expose both the bank and the consumer to foreign exchange swings. Time will tell, though BPH PBK has certainly been generating an enormous amount of profit for its parent bank, and is perhaps one of the most attractive prizes for UniCredit in its acquisition of HVB.
This year, however, the best bank award goes to UniCredit's Bank Pekao, which, like BPH PBK, had its best year ever in 2004, while following more conservative lending practices in the consumer sector.