, had soothing words when he spoke to beyondbrics about new rules curbing Austrian banks’ future lending to central and eastern Europe.
The countries affected are not so sure. In his usual trenchant way, Romanian president Traian Basescu (pictured) warned on Thursday the new regulation was not “fair play”, and might even reflect a “mistake or a misunderstanding of its impact”. Mojmir Hampl, deputy governor of the Czech central bank, told a newspaper Prague was not informed in advance. Europe’s central bankers may all be in the same boat. But not everybody gets a paddle.
Nowotny said requiring Austrian banks to limit future lending largely to what they can fund from local deposits was, he said, “not a limitation on growth [but] a limitation on risk” – and exactly what banks were doing anyway. It was, he added, about establishing a “level playing field” between banks, and countries where they operated.
Nowotny his institution had held discussions with both the banks and with supervisory bodies in neighbouring countries about its plans in broad terms, if not in detail, so they should “not come as a surprise to anybody”.
Prague’s Hampl did not criticise the plans, saying only that his bank was now analysing them.
But Basescu let rip. “You have made huge profits and if you are now getting ready to leave Romania unfinanced during the crisis we will think it is an act lacking fair play towards Romania,” he said, according to Reuters. “I don’t want to believe we will be left to pay the bills of banks’ greed. There are European mechanisms. I urge you to use these mechanisms instead of choking the Romanian economy by reducing capital inflows.”
The Czech Republic and Romania happen to be the number one and two countries in terms of Austrian bank exposure, according to Nowotny. He cited these as exactly the kind of “core” markets where the banks would continue to grow and strengthen their operations.
He did not offer the same assurances about Hungary, number three in terms of Austrian banks’ exposure. But, in an implicit nod to Hungary’s “unorthodox” crisis taxes on banks and measures to help foreign currency mortgage holders, he suggested that if banks were reviewing strategies there, this had nothing to do with him.
“Hungary is a very special situation,” said Nowotny. “The banks themselves have to rethink their strategy as long as they are confronted with an economic policy strategy that is very difficult to understand. So therefore the Hungarian situation is difficult, but due to the actions of the Hungarian government, not the Austrian central bank.”
Crisis hits central and eastern Europe, FT
CEE banks: Austria lays down the law, beyondbrics
ECB to Hungary: mortgage law stinks, beyondbrics
Full coverage of CEE’s Swiss franc debt woes, beyondbrics
Commerzbank: a chill wind for CEE, beyondbrics
CEE: Erste rattles the rest, beyondbrics
And Justice for All (in emerging Europe), Alphaville