Russia in talks over future of central bank’s stake in Sberbank

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia is discussing whether the central bank should continue to hold a controlling stake in the country’s largest lender Sberbank <SBER.MM>, finance minister Anton Siluanov told reporters on Tuesday, confirming an earlier Reuters report.

Four sources told Reuters last week that officials were in talks to transfer the central bank’s stake in Sberbank to another state entity, amid unease about the central bank’s role as both owner and supervisor.

“This issue is being discussed, as there is a conflict of interests,” Siluanov, who also serves as first deputy prime minister, said. “The central bank also owns banks it has bailed out but it should not accumulate institutions it supervises.”

After bailing out three big private banking groups in 2017, the central bank remains an owner of Otkritie and Trust banks. It plans to sell both after they have fully recovered, expected in the early 2020s.

The central bank and the finance ministry are also at odds over how dividends should be distributed between the state budget and the central bank itself. Sberbank dividends make a significant contribution to the central bank’s overall profit.

Sberbank paid 361.4 billion roubles ($5.83 billion) in dividends this year. VTB <VTBR.MM>, Russia’s second biggest bank, is controlled by the state via the Federal Agency for Property Management, so its dividends go directly to the budget.

Siluanov said the state budget envisages Sberbank’s dividends among the sources of its revenues in 2020-2022.

Two sources familiar with the central bank’s position and a state banker told Reuters the central bank wanted its stake in Sberbank to be sold to another state entity rather than transferred.

There is no agreement on whether such a sale should take place or what the price might be, the sources said. Based on Sberbank’s current market capitalization, the central bank’s 50% stake is worth 2.8 trillion roubles.

Siluanov declined to comment on how the stake might be shifted from the central bank. The central bank did not reply to a request for a comment.

(This story corrects market value of central bank’s stake in Sberbank to 2.8 trillion roubles from 2.3 trillion roubles in penultimate paragraph)

(Reporting by Darya Korsunskaya; Tatiana Voronova and Elena Fabrichnaya; Writing by Katya Golubkova, Editing by Jane Merriman and Mark Potter)

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