ECONOMY

Albanian bank boosted

TIRANA – Albania’s largest bank plans to resume lending five years after a central bank ban, hoping this will boost its privatization chances after two failed attempts to sell it, its head told Reuters last week. General Manager Ardian Kamberi also said the state-owned bank had fully recovered from massive withdrawals in March-April caused by a brief bout of panic over a new deposit insurance scheme, saying the money had now come back. But that crisis was largely to blame for a decline in its profit this year to 3 billion lek ($22.35 million) from 4 billion in 2001, the bank’s financial director Llazi Balliu said. Albania’s central bank imposed tough restrictions on the fragile banking system after a fraudulent pyramid scheme collapsed in 1997 and sent the impoverished country into chaos. Banks which had non-performing loans amounting to more than 20 percent of total lending were prohibited from giving new credits. This included the Savings Bank, which had a ratio as high as 75 percent in 1998. But Kamberi said the central bank, the Finance Ministry, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have now agreed to let it resume lending for some pilot projects which they would monitor. The IMF and the World Bank are helping Albania in its privatization process. «We will lend to big projects of medium and big enterprises, and then extend our credit activity step by step,» said Kamberi, who took up his position this year. To prepare it for privatization, the Savings Bank’s bad loans have been transferred to a state agency over the last few years. Despite this, the government failed to sell it in 2001 and again this year due to low foreign interest, which local officials blamed on depressed international markets. The Savings Bank, which lost 10 percent of its deposits during the run on the bank last spring, will be offered for sale again sometime next year. Kamberi said renewed lending would help the bank boost its performance, saying it had the potential to lend $200 million, compared with the total credit stock of $320 million of the other 12 banks that operate in the country. The Savings Bank has a market share of 55 percent, but now invests most of its deposits of 151 billion lek in T-bills. «The resumption of the credit activity will improve (the bank’s) performance and reduce the concentration of its assets in government treasury bills, making it more attractive to foreign investors,» Kamberi said.