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European bank shares jittery as slew of sanctions readied

 European bank shares jittery as slew of sanctions readied

The financial district in Frankfurt, Germany, March 18, 2019. REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski

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European bank shares remained unsteady on Friday after steep falls a day earlier, as bankers grapple with the potential impact of a slew of sanctions following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Shares wavered as missiles pounded the Ukrainian capital and its President Volodymyr Zelenskiy pleaded with the international community to do more, saying sanctions announced so far were not enough. read more

Leading European banks initially recovered some ground but by midmorning the European banking sector index (.SX7P) was trading down 0.1%, after a 8% fall on Thursday.

Details of the next round of European sanctions were still a work in progress but the European Union is expected to freeze Russian assets in the bloc and halt its banks’ access to European financial markets as part of what EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell described as “the harshest package of sanctions we have ever implemented”. read more

“This package includes financial sanctions, targeting 70% of the Russian banking market and key state-owned companies, including in defence,” EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said on Twitter.

Behind the scenes, bankers said that they and their lawyers were scrambling to determine the impact of sanctions.

In a sign that sanctions were beginning to bite, the London Stock Exchange on Friday suspended VTB Capital’s membership. The company is owned by one of Russia’s biggest banks and can no longer trade on the LSE. read more

In a report on Friday, JP Morgan analysts said sanctions would have a limited impact on banks directly and that the bigger problem was the impact on the economy.

“The key risk for European banks relates to potential GDP downgrades due to higher commodity related prices and hence potential delays in interest rate hike expectations,” the report said.

The prospect of higher interest rates had brightened the earnings outlook for banks after years of ultra-low and negative rates ate away at their profit margins.

Meanwhile, banks were carrying out emergency measures. Germany’s Solarisbank said that it had evacuated its tech hub in Kyiv, which it opened last year with dozens of employees.

“It is sad to think that just one week ago, I was in Kyiv, working and developing business. Now we have to rebuild our plans and to adapt,” the bank’s Ukraine chief, Dumitru Condrea, posted on LinkedIn.

On Thursday, banks with the biggest exposure to Russia fell the most.

That included Austria’s Raiffeisen Bank International (RBIV.VI), which lost 23%, regaining 2.2% on Friday. Societe Generale (SOGN.PA), which lost 12% on Thursday, and was down another 2.2% on Friday.

Some investors had already cut exposure to Russia going into the crisis.

“We had our own screening view of what businesses would most likely be impacted through strong sanctions and that had been an area where we’ve been seeking to reduce our exposure,” Andrew Formica, the chief executive of Jupiter Fund Management (JUP.L), said.

For European banks, the greatest concern has been that governments would cut Russia out of the SWIFT international payment network, but so far that hasn’t happened.

Bankers have argued cutting Russia off from the international payments network could seriously hurt its economy and everyday citizens, and would create enormous complexity and compliance risks for the global banking industry.

While Britain is pushing to cut Russia out of SWIFT, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Friday that option would only be used as a last resort. read more

Additional reporting by Frank Siebelt, Hakan Ersen, Huw Jones, editing by Miranda Murray and Elaine Hardcastle

This article was originally published by Reuters.


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