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Acleda sees record decline

Acleda bank staff count money at the head office on Monivong Boulevard in May 2011
Acleda bank staff count money at the head office on Monivong Boulevard in May 2011. The bank has reported a nearly $200 million drop off in deposits in the third financial quarter of this year. HENG CHIVOAN

Acleda sees record decline

For the first time in its history, Acleda, Cambodia’s largest commercial bank, has recorded a quarterly decline in customer deposits as well as a decrease in loans.

Nearly $200 million was shaved off, according to official third-quarter results released on Friday, as customers withdrew their savings amid post-election tension. Acleda president and CEO In Channy confirmed the figures yesterday.

Deposits dipped sharply from $1.46 billion at the end of June to $1.26 billion at the end of September.

Channy attributed the shortfall to a political standoff unnerving many customers who fear their savings were not secure in the bank. Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmakers-elect are still refusing to take their 55 parliamentary seats earned in July’s election, citing allegations of voter fraud.

“This was the first time. Normally we grow exponentially,” Channy said.

As unprecedented as the fall is, Channy asserted that by last Friday, Acleda was surging back to normal levels and had regained close to $186.5 million in deposits, reflecting a fast returning confidence in the bank.

The 11-day turnaround usually takes over three months of normal growth to match.

“The profit after tax remains the same; we adjusted the lending rate and retained strong profits in the third quarter,” he said.

In another first at Acleda, loans contracted during the third quarter.

Falling deposits at Acleda meant that credit was also harder to come by. Rates were increased to deter “bigger loans”, he said.

Acleda recorded a drop of $2.8 million in consumer lending.

Local businessman and former ANZ Royal Bank CEO Stephen Higgins views the Acleda results as a gauge for a much larger economic problem brought on by political issues.

“Acleda is a very large bank, and touches just about every part of the economy, so what happens at Acleda is going to be a pretty good indicator for what is happening with the broader economy,” he said.

Following suggestive anecdotal evidence of post-election economic woes, the mass withdrawal at Acleda is one of the first concrete indicators to emerge, and the consequences could still be playing out.

For one thing, Higgins said the Acleda results demonstrate an unwillingness among Cambodians to part with cash, which is “really hurting” small and medium-size businesses.

Cambodian Economic Association president Srey Chanty is still concerned with economic factors after the election. Chanty said credit supply has been unable to meet demand, forcing the cost of borrowing to increase.

“The impact is mainly on the farmers and for those who want to borrow from the bank, to invest in their activity or to pay for their operations,” he said, adding that the problem could worsen if the situation continues.

As deposits rapidly flow back, however, Acleda’s Channy is confident that financial problems are stabilising, and he doesn’t expect broader ripples in the economy.

A recent spate of economic forecasts back up the positive outlook.

The International Monetary Fund raised its 2013 growth prediction for Cambodia to seven per cent last week, from 6.7 per cent in April. In a recent update, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) maintained its 7.2 prediction. For the moment, it seems, both agencies share Acleda’s confidence.

“As for the impact of the elections, we decided that we did not have enough concrete information or indications to make any sensible judgments,” said ADB senior country economist Peter Brimble.

Brimble added that trends remain positive, but the situation will be reviewed again in the first quarter of 2014 ahead of the ADB’s next forecast.

Grant Knuckey, CEO of ANZ Royal Bank, says deposits are flowing back into the banking system, and he doesn’t anticipate any more long-term effects.

Credit growth, however, will be lower in 2013 relative to 2012, according to Knuckey, “as banks have become more conscious of the need to manage liquidity.”

“This is actually a healthy thing, as credit growth was beginning to become excessive relative to economic growth and the narrow borrower base,” he said.

The National Bank of Cambodia, which records sector-wide deposit information, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

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