Sberbank Sees 2007 Net Profit at $4.2Bln

Sberbank's net profit for 2007 increased by "about 100 billion rubles" ($4.2 billion) according to international financial reporting standards, up from 83 billion last year, a statement posted on the company's web site said Tuesday.

The announcement came in response to an apparently inflated figure reportedly given by Sberbank chief executive German Gref at an economic conference earlier Tuesday. Bewilderment over the size of the discrepancy overshadowed further talk of booming profits and ambitious expansion plans.

Talking to journalists on the sidelines of a Troika Dialog forum in Singapore, Gref was reported by several news agencies to have said Sberbank's net profit last year rose to $4.9 billion, representing a potential year-on-year increase of more than 50 percent.

But Gref's figures were strikingly similar to the bank's profits according to Russian accounting standards and were quickly corrected down by officials at the company's office in Moscow. Sberbank's press office could not be contacted for further clarification Tuesday.

The Russian banking mammoth is set to announce definitive profits under international financial reporting standards at the end of April and has already said 2007 profit according to Russian accounting standards rose by around 33 percent to just under 117 billion rubles.

Since taking the reins at Sberbank in November, former Economic Development and Trade Minister Gref has launched a tentative modernization program to improve investor relations at the country's biggest lender.

At the Singapore conference, Gref elaborated on the bank's expansion plans for the next five years, outlining ambitious targets to expand into as many as 20 new markets.

Gref said that with prices having fallen "by nearly two times," Sberbank currently has a "golden period" to make acquisitions.

The bank is eyeing up moves into the largest markets in the Commonwealth of Independent States and other emerging markets in Eastern Europe "and potentially, Africa," senior vice president Denis Bugrov said, Interfax reported. Gref has previously announced plans to expand into China and India.

Gref also reiterated plans to bring an independent director onto the company's supervisory board in place of former first deputy director Alla Alyoshkina. Although talks are being held with potential candidates, Gref refused to give any names.

Sberbank is on the verge of signing up two leading international consultancy firms, McKinsey and Bain, to help hammer out the company's five-year plan, Gref said.

A spokesman for McKinsey refused to comment on the matter.