Банкеръ Weekly



Bank managers are likely to melt at the recollection of the first two months of 2001. In this period the six-month USD London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) was between 5% and 6% and Bulgarian banks' deposits abroad were bringing good profits almost without any risk at all. Most Bulgarian financial institutions felt like visitors to the Louvre, tasting the luxury and magnificence of Louis XIV, without facing the risk that somebody could steal their wallet. For that reason they left crediting in the background. This was so until March when interest rates began to go down. In the end of August the six-month USD LIBOR was around 3.6 per cent. After the terrorist attacks in the USA September 11 interest rates went on dropping and within two months USD LIBOR decreased below 2 per cent. Investments in prime-rate securities and in large foreign banks' deposits, which were bringing comfort and security to Bulgarian credit institutions, suddenly became a menace for their future. Bulgarian banks, of course, reacted on time and turned their attention to companies and citizens, which they were previously overlooking. There could be nothing easier than extending the desired credit. But the interest rates were such as to ensure high revenues. For this reason probably statistics show that the credits, released in end-2001, were 34% up from a year earlier. The loans, lent by December 31, 2000, totalled BGN2.6BN, reaching BGN3.5BN twelve months later.It can be said that local banks are more successfully attracting citizens' money as well. However, this became possible four years after the introduction of the currency board arrangement in this country. Therefore, banks' assets increased by more than 24% in 2001, going up from BGN9BN to BGN11.2BN. Thus, after the biggest (for almost a century) crisis in the USA, Bulgarian banks registered their best year. Their 2001 after-tax profits have been pre-estimated at BGN316.53MN. This is the highest profit, reported by the bank sector since 1990. Both clients and shareholders should be glad. But this fact is mostly due to the curency board and changed laws and regulations for banking after 1997 when former premier Ivan Kostov's government came into power. Several years of efforts in this direction succeeded to gain back trust in the local financial institutions, although not entirely. The return on banks' share capital went up to 38% in end-2001, which means that if in the beginning of 2001 an investor had purchased shares of BGN1,000 par value in a good Bulgarian bank, the investment went up to BGN1,380 by the year-end.

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