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Kazakh banking: Marchenko keeps Halyk on the straight and narrow

The bank has shone through Kazakhstan’s financial sector gloom thanks to the chief executive’s cautious policies that he put in place while rivals were borrowing abroad to fund over-risky lending. Elliot Wilson reports.

THROUGHOUT THE MINI-MELTDOWN of Kazakhstan’s banking sector, just one institution has escaped largely unscathed. Halyk Bank has thrived while others, notably local rivals BTA and Kazkommertsbank, have faltered over the past year. Halyk’s shares have slipped recently – thanks in part to underwhelming first-quarter 2008 earnings in a troubled market – but it remains a favourite among analysts, with buy ratings from Kazakhstan’s Visor Capital and Moscow’s Renaissance Capital. Halyk is still the only local lender to have issued a Eurobond this year: its $500 million, five-and-a-half-year issuance in April 2008 was the first such offering in nine months, and the only Kazakh-overseas debt sale this year. In 2007, the bank posted a 49% rise in net income, to $336 million. During the third and fourth quarter of 2007, it was one of the only Kazakh banks still disbursing loans while the market contracted.

Behind Halyk’s rise lies a relatively simple and old-fashioned concept, one that has been largely forgotten in the years of global plenty: avoid excessive risks; lend only to those corporations and interests able or likely to repay their loans; and use the profit to steadily grow other services. And behind this thinking at Halyk sits a single figure, the bank’s chairman of the management board and chief executive, Grigoriy Marchenko.

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