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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Central Bank Raises Reserve Requirement

The Central Bank signaled further confidence Monday that it had overcome the worst of the country's liquidity crisis, raising the reserve requirement for banks to 1.5 percent after rapidly slashing the figure last fall.

The step was the second incremental increase in a four-month process that will bring the rate to 2.5 percent in August. The Central Bank cut the requirement from 8 percent to 4 percent and then again to 0.5 percent in the space of a month in September and October as the regulator sought to ease a lending crunch that saw interbank rates jump past 20 percent.

While the Central Bank has recently stepped up its oversight of banks, it is also working to ensure that lenders have some leeway during the rise of nonperforming loans, or NPLs, which top bankers have said are threatening to cause a new liquidity crunch.

Moody's said Monday that Russian banks would need $40 billion to recapitalize in 2009, $23.6 billion of which the government has already supplied. The prediction, based on the assumption that Russian NPLs will reach 20 percent this year, is well below Citibank's most recent estimate of $70 billion.

Mark Rubinstein, senior analyst at Metropol, said the ratings agency put too much weight on the devaluation of the ruble, an outdated issue now that the currency has begun to recover and one that pulls the projection of capital needs higher than it should be.

"The Moody's report is a bit behind reality in terms of the macroeconomic picture," he said, predicting that Russia would see NPLs reach only 8 to 12 percent this year thanks to chances for restructuring.

While the estimate is "not a huge number," MDM-Bank fixed income analyst Mikhail Galkin said, any NPL prediction should be taken with a grain of salt.

"We may end up being OK without any additional injections [of capital], or maybe relatively insignificant ones will be made. A lot depends on factors such as oil price, management quality and regulatory approach," Galkin said.

Now, the question is how strict the Central Bank will be in recognizing nonperforming loans, he said.

Last week, the regulator said it would begin counting full loans as delinquent instead of just individual payments, a method that will bring Russia's loan reporting more in line with international standards.

Compared with the Central Bank's other moves, such as relaxing how many days banks have before overdue loans become nonperforming, the reserve requirement increase represents a step in the opposite direction, Galkin said.

"[Raising the requirement] is something the Central Bank can do to maintain the reliability of the system and prevent criticism that it's too soft and too liberal," he said.