Kazakhstan: Investment bankers upbeat amid the downturn


Guy Norton
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Kazakhstan’s bankers are taking a defiant stance towards the financial crisis. Despite the fact that important sectors of the economy such as banking and construction have been hit hard by the global credit crisis, which has cut off the supply of cheap foreign funding that backed their rapid expansion, investment bankers believe there is still plenty of potential business to be fought over.

"Kazakhstan’s a big country with big prospects," says Adel Kambar, chief executive of Renaissance Capital’s central Asian operation in Almaty. He adds: "We still get investors from New York and London travelling here – nobody’s forgotten Kazakhstan, it’s still on a lot of people’s radar screens."

While acknowledging that in the foreseeable future there’s unlikely to be a return to the large-scale public share and bond issuance that propelled Kazakhstan to centre stage in the international capital markets in recent years, Kambar says that there’s still plenty of investment banking work to be done.

"We still get investors from
New York and London travelling here – nobody’s forgotten Kazakhstan, it’s still on a lot of people’s radar screens"

Adel Kambar,
Renaissance Capital

Alongside advising local businesses there is also work from the authorities in the capital, Astana. Renaissance recently secured a high-profile mandate from the National Welfare Fund, Samruk-Kazyna, to help it establish and operate its Distressed Assets Fund, which will restructure problem banking assets.

Elsewhere, Stefan Scholz, head of investment banking at rival firm Visor Capital and recently returned from a recruitment drive in London, says that the fallout from the global crisis on the investment banking industry means that firms such as his, which have a strong pipeline of deals, are increasingly seen as an attractive option for highly experienced professionals seeking to escape the dole queue in western Europe and the US. "We used to get job applications from junior analysts, now we get them from people at director level and above," says Scholz, adding that the long-term economic prospects of resource-rich Kazakhstan mean that the country will continue to be the focus of M&A activity given the interest from investors worldwide.

Russia’s Troika Dialog, the latest in a series of investment banks to set up shop in Almaty, also believes that there is more than enough work available to justify its presence in Kazakhstan. Chief executive James Turnbull says that the firm is building its local sales/trading equity brokerage and research capabilities to serve its extensive client base in Russia, western Europe and the US. In addition, he stresses the prospect of Troika executing debt and private equity placements on behalf of local corporates looking to source precious bridge financing or expansion capital. "There’s a big role here for us on the debt and equities advisory front as well as on the plain vanilla brokerage side."