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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bank Seeks to Spur Building With New Certificate

Alexander Morozov, director of investments at Tveruniversalbank in Moscow, sees opportunity in one of Russia's many economic ironies: While Muscovites want and can pay for new housing, construction companies are dying for lack of gainful work.

Morozov hopes to make the connection between supply and demand, and a profit for his bank, with a new security: the housing certificate. Each certificate, which would be sold at 25 percent less than the going market rate of Moscow housing, would entitle its holder to a specific apartment within a specific time period, and would advance the builder funds to start building.

"We already have enough orders to raise $500,000," said Morozov, adding that Tveruniversalbank, one of Russia's 100 largest banks with more than 275 billion rubles ($163.9 million) in assets, hasn't even started advertising the certificates. "We have a line of construction contractors that want to participate."

But the certificates won't hit the market this month, and might not appear next month either.

The main obstacle, said Morozov, is that contractors cannot find building suppliers in Moscow willing to work with the more stringent cost controls required by private enterprise. He complained that the suppliers, mostly unprivatized monopolists, have been spoiled by city contracts that allow them to change their prices almost at will.

"They are accustomed to dictating their own terms," he said. "In the Soviet era, they increased the amount of work wherever possible, even if that work didn't exist, and this mentality remains."

To bring suppliers into line and reduce uncertainty in Russia's environment of high wage and price inflation, Tveruniversalbank wants to set its own strict terms in each construction contract, including construction deadlines enforced by penalties. This would require suppliers to agree in advance to provide certain items, such as pipes or moldings, at certain set costs.

"We need a very strict relationship between contractors and suppliers," said Morozov. "While they do not accept that strict responsibility, we cannot go ahead with the project."

Alexander Ivanov, 32, president of the Pro-Inform Complex contracting company, believes he has a project that meets the bank's terms.

Pro-Inform Complex has obtained the rights to build on a plot of land along Dmitrivskoye Shosse in northern Moscow, and has already set up a financing plan with Tveruniversalbank.

Ivanov said that his company has developed a good relationship with one supplier -- Zhelezo-Batoni Kombinat No. 2 -- that can provide 95 percent of all materials needed for the construction.

"They work mainly on government orders, which have a poor payment record," he said. "We pay today and then take our supplies; the city takes supplies today and then pays later."

Under the plan, Pro-Inform Complex would build two 14-story and two 16-story apartment buildings with a total of about 500 apartments. Under Moscow regulations, half of the apartments must be given free of charge to the city in return for the right to build.

Ivanov estimated the cost of the first 14-story building, to be completed by May 1995, at about 1.9 billion rubles.

Each square meter of saleable space, with an estimated market value of $700, would cost $525 using the certificates, or $26,250 for an average two-room apartment.

Tveruniversalbank would help protect the construction funds from inflation by paying 160 percent interest, compounded monthly, on the project account.

In turn, the bank would be allowed to use the money for operations such as lending on the interbank credit market and would take a one percent commission on all certificate sales.

"For banks it is a very profitable business," said Morozov. He said the bank intends to help develop a secondary market in the certificates.

If a project failed, the bank would return the investors' money with interest at the prevailing Central Bank rate, which now stands at 210 percent per year. Even at this rate, the bank could make a sizeable profit on the interbank credit market, where annualized interest rates on three-month loans range up to 240 percent.

Ivanov expects construction on his apartment project to begin in about a month, after the residents of the three-story buildings that presently stand on the site have been relocated.

While Ivanov said the certificates could be issued in two to three weeks, Morozov doubted residents could be moved and supply contracts signed that soon.

"I don't look at it that optimistically," he said. "I think it will take longer."

Eventually, though, Morozov envisions a system in which prospective investors could browse through a catalogue of projects, including apartment buildings, office complexes, underground parking, cottages and transport terminals.

When an investor bought a certificate, the money would automatically be transferred to the corresponding project's account at Tveruniversalbank.

"Builders are ready to build and people are ready to invest," Morozov said. "We are prepared to fight to make it work."