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Kazakhstan

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Kazakhstan maintains a stable macroeconomic framework, although weak banks inhibit the financial sector’s development (described further in next section), valuation and accounting practices are inconsistent, and large state-owned enterprises that dominate the economy face challenges in preparing complete financial reporting.  Capital markets remain underdeveloped and illiquid, with small equity and debt markets dominated by state-owned companies and lacking in retail investors.  Most domestic borrowers obtain credit from Kazakhstani banks, although foreign investors often find margins and collateral requirements onerous, and it is usually cheaper and easier for foreign investors to use retained earnings or borrow from their home country. The government actively seeks to attract foreign direct investment, including portfolio investment.  Foreign clients may only trade via local brokerage companies or after registering at the Kazakhstan Stock Exchange (KASE) or at the AIFC.

KASE, in operation since 1993, trades a variety of instruments, including equities and funds, corporate bonds, sovereign debt, foreign currencies, repurchase agreements (REPO) and derivatives, with 200 listed companies in total.  Most of KASE’s trading is comprised of money market (87 percent) and foreign exchange (10 percent).  As of March 31, 2020, stock market capitalization was USD 37.3 billion, while the corporate bond market was USD 31 billion. The Single Accumulating Pension Fund, the key source of the country’s local currency liquidity, accumulated $26.1 billion as of March 31, 2020.

In 2018, the government launched the Astana International Financial Center (AIFC), a regional financial hub modeled after the Dubai International Financial Center.  The AIFC has its own stock exchange (AIX), regulator, and court (see Part 4).  The AIFC has partnered with the Shanghai Stock Exchange, NASDAQ, Goldman Sachs International, the Silk Road Fund, and others.  AIX currently has 53 listings, including 24 traded on its platform.

Kazakhstan is bound by Article 8 of the International Monetary Fund’s Articles of Agreement, adopted in 1996, which prohibits government restrictions on currency conversions or the repatriation of investment profits.  Money transfers associated with foreign investments, whether inside or outside of the country, are unrestricted; however, Kazakhstan’s currency legislation requires that a currency contract must be presented to the servicing bank if the transfer exceeds USD 10,000.  Money transfers over USD 50,000 require the servicing bank to notify the transaction to the authorities, so the transferring bank may require the transferring parties, whether resident or non-resident, to provide information for that notification.

Money and Banking System

Kazakhstan has 27 commercial banks.  As of March 1, 2019, the five largest banks (Halyk Bank, Sberbank-Kazakhstan, Forte Bank, Kaspi Bank and Bank CenterCredit) held assets of approximately USD 43.6 billion, accounting for 62.2 percent of the total banking sector.

Kazakhstan’s banking system remains impaired by legacy non-performing loans, poor risk management, weak corporate governance practices at some banks and significant related-party exposures.  Over the past several years the government has undertaken a number of measures to strengthen the sector, including capital injections, enhanced oversight, and expanded regulatory authorities.  In 2019, the NBK initiated an asset quality review (AQR) of 14 major banks jointly holding 87 percent of banking assets as of April 1, 2019.  According to NBK officials, the AQR showed sufficient capitalization on average across the 14 banks and set out individual corrective measure plans for each of the banks to improve risk management.  As of March 2020, the ratio of non-performing loans to banking assets was 8.9 percent, down from 31.2 percent in January 2014.  The COVID-19 pandemic and the fall in global oil prices may pose additional risks to Kazakhstan’s banking sector.

Kazakhstan has a central bank system, led by the National Bank of Kazakhstan (NBK).  In January 2020, parliament established the Agency for Regulation and Development after Financial Market (ARDFM), which assumed the NBK’s role as main financial regulator overseeing banks, insurance companies, stock market, microcredit organizations, debt collection agencies, and credit bureaus.  The National Bank of Kazakhstan (NBK) retains its core central bank functions as well as management of the country’s sovereign wealth fund and pension system assets.  The NBK and ARDFM as its successor is committed to move gradually to Basel III regulatory standard.  As of May 2020, Basel III methodology applies to capital and liquidity calculation with required regulatory ratios gradually changing to match the standard.

Currently foreign banks are allowed to operate in the country only through their local subsidiaries.  Starting December 16, 2020, as a part of Kazakhstan’s WTO commitments, foreign banks will be allowed to operate via branches subject to compliance with regulatory norms prescribed by the NBK and ARDFM.

Foreigners may open bank accounts in local banks if they have a local tax registration number.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

There are no restrictions or limitations placed on foreign investors in converting, transferring, or repatriating funds associated with an investment (e.g. remittances of investment capital, earnings, loan or lease payments, or royalties).  Funds associated with any form of investment may be freely converted into any world currency, though local markets may be limited to major world currencies.

As of July 2019, foreign company branches are treated as residents, except for branches of foreign banks and insurance companies or non-financial organizations treated as non-residents based on previously made special agreements with Kazakhstan.  Foreign banks and insurance companies’ branches will be treated as residents from December 2020.  With some exceptions, foreign currency transactions between residents are forbidden.  There are no restrictions on foreign currency operations between residents and non-residents, unless specified otherwise by local foreign currency legislation.  Companies registered with AIFC are not subject to currency and settlement restrictions.

Kazakhstan abandoned its currency peg in favor of a free-floating exchange rate and inflation-targeting monetary regime in August 2015, although the National Bank admits to intervening in foreign exchange markets to combat excess volatility.  Kazakhstan maintains sufficient international reserves according to the IMF.  As of March 2020, international reserves at the National Bank, including foreign currency and gold, and National Fund assets totaled USD 87.4 billion.

Remittance Policies

The U.S. Mission in Kazakhstan is not aware of any concerns about remittance policies or the availability of foreign exchange conversion for the remittance of profits.  Local currency legislation permits non-residents to freely receive and transfer dividends, interest and other income on deposits, securities, loans, and other currency transactions with residents.  However, such remittances would be subject to the reporting requirements described in the “Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment” Section above.  There are no time limitations on remittances; and timelines to remit investment returns depend on internal procedures of the servicing bank. Residents seeking to transfer property or money to a non-resident in excess of USD 500,000 are required to register the contract with the NBK.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The National Fund of the Republic of Kazakhstan was established to support the country’s social and economic development via accumulation of financial and other assets, as well as to reduce the country’s dependence on oil sector and external shocks.  The Fund’s assets are generated from direct taxes and other payments from oil companies, public property privatization, sale of public farm lands, and investment income.  The government, through the Ministry of Finance, controls the National Fund, while the NBK acts as National Fund’s trustee and asset manager. The NBK selects external asset managers from internationally-recognized investment companies or banks to oversee a part of the National Fund’s assets.  Information about external asset managers and assets they manage is confidential.  As of March 2020, the National Fund’s assets were USD 57 billion or around 37 percent of GDP.

The government receives regular transfers from the National Fund for general state budget support, as well as special purpose transfers ordered by the President.  The National Fund is required to retain a minimum balance of no less than 30 percent of GDP.

Kazakhstan is not a member of the IMF-hosted International Working Group of Sovereign Wealth Funds.

Kyrgyz Republic

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

The Kyrgyz government is generally open toward foreign portfolio investment, though experts from international financial institutions (IFIs) have noted that capital markets in the Kyrgyz Republic remain underdeveloped. The economy of the Kyrgyz Republic is primarily cash-based, although non-cash consumer transactions, such as debit cards and transaction machines, have quadrupled in the last five years. In 2019, Moody’s Investors Services assigned the Kyrgyz Republic a sovereign credit rating of B2. The government debt market is small and limited to short maturities, though Kyrgyz bonds are available for foreign ownership. Broadly, credit is allocated on market terms, but experts have noted that the presence of the Russian-Kyrgyz Development Fund subsidized sources of credit have introduced market distortions. Bank loans remain the primary source of private sector credit, and local portfolio investors often highlight the need to develop additional financial instruments in the Kyrgyz Republic.

There are two stock exchanges in the Kyrgyz Republic (Kyrgyz Stock Exchange and Stock Exchange The Kyrgyz Republic), but all transactions are conducted through the Kyrgyz Stock Exchange. In 2019, the total value of transactions amounted to USD 6.1 billion Kyrgyz soms (approximately USD 87 billion). The small market lacks sufficient liquidity to enter and exit sizeable positions. Since 1995, the Kyrgyz Republic has accepted IMF Article VIII obligations. Foreign investors are able to acquire loans on the local market if the business is operating on the territory of the Kyrgyz Republic and collateral meets the requirements of local banks. The average interest rate for loans in USD is between 10-15 percent.

Money and Banking System

The National Bank of the Kyrgyz Republic (NBKR) is a nominally independent body whose mandate is to achieve and maintain price stability through monetary policy. The Bank is also tasked with maintaining the safety and reliability of the banking and payment systems. The NBKR licenses, regulates, and supervises credit institutions. The penetration level of the banking sector is 42 percent.

According to the IMF, the Kyrgyz banking system at present remains well capitalized with still sizeable, non-performing loans (NPLs). NPLs increased from 7.5 percent to 8.0 percent in 2019, with restructured loans in excess of 20 percent. Net capital adequacy ratio increased from 23.7 percent to 24.0 percent in 2019. Total assets in the Kyrgyz banking system in 2019 equaled approximately USD 3.6 billion. As of August 2019, the Kyrgyz Republic’s three largest banks by total assets were Kyrgyz Investment and Credit Bank (KICB; approximately USD 418 million), Optima Bank (approximately USD 520.7 million), and Aiyl Bank (approximately USD 434.5 million).

There are currently 23 commercial banks in the Kyrgyz Republic, with 323 operating branches throughout the country; the five largest banks comprise 51.7 percent of the total market. No U.S. bank operates in the Kyrgyz Republic and Kyrgyz banks do not maintain correspondent accounts from U.S. financial institutions. There are eight foreign banks operating in the Kyrgyz Republic: Demir Bank, National Bank of Pakistan, Halyk Bank, Optima Bank, Finca Bank, and Kompanion Bank are entirely foreign held. Other banks are partially foreign held, including KICB and BTA Bank, Kyrgyz-Swiss Bank. KICB has multinational organizations as shareholders including the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), Economic Finance Corporation, the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development and others.

The micro-finance sector in the Kyrgyz Republic is robust, representing nearly 10 percent the market size of the banking sector. Trade accounted for 25.4 percent of the total loan portfolio of the banking sector, followed by agriculture (18.9 percent) and consumer loans (11.7 percent). The microfinance sector in the Kyrgyz Republic is rapidly growing. In 2019, around 140 microfinance companies, 95 credit unions, 220 pawnshops and 401 currency exchange offices operated in the Kyrgyz Republic. Over the last four years, the three largest microfinance companies (Bai-Tushum, FINCA, and Kompanion) transformed into banks with full banking licenses.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Foreign exchange is widely available and rates are competitive. The local currency, the Kyrgyz som, is freely convertible and stable compared to other currencies in the region. While the som is a floating currency, the NBKR periodically intervenes in the market to mitigate the risk of exchange rate shocks. Given significant currency fluctuations among Post-Soviet countries in 2019, the Kyrgyz som was one of the most stable currencies, with the dollar exchange rate dropping 0.3 percent over the year. In 2019, the NBKR conducted six foreign exchange interventions and in total, sold USD 143.5 million. The NBKR conducts weekly inter-bank currency auctions, in which competitive bids determine market-based transaction prices. Banks usually clear payments within a single business day. Complaints of currency conversion issues are rare. With occasional exceptions in the agricultural and energy sectors, barter transactions have largely been phased out.

Remittance Policies

Remittances typically account for 25-30 percent of GDP. In 2019 net remittances reached $1.8 billion, a 16 percent reduction from 2018. In July 2019, the Central Bank of Russia lowered the cap on money transfers per month to the Kyrgyz Republic to 100,000 rubles (approximately USD 1,590 based on July exchange rates). The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) assessed that in 2019, the Kyrgyz Republic made “significant progress in addressing technical compliance deficiencies to combat money laundering and financial crimes.”

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Kyrgyz Republic’s Sovereign Wealth Fund originated from proceeds of the Kumtor gold mine and is composed of shares in the parent company of the gold mine operator, Centerra Gold. The Kyrgyz Republic owns roughly 77.4 million shares of the company, which are currently valued at USD 404 million.

Uzbekistan

6. Financial Sector

Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment

Prior to 2017, the government focused on investors capable of providing technology transfers and employment in local industries, and had not prioritized attraction of portfolio investments.  In 2017, the GOU announced its plans to improve the capital market and use stock market instruments to meet its economic development goals.  The government created a new Agency for the Development of Capital Markets (CMDA) in January 2019 as the institution responsible for development and regulation of the securities market and protection of the rights and legitimate interests of investors in securities market.  CMDA is currently implementing a capital markets development strategy for 2020-2025.  According to CMDA officials, the goal of the strategy is to make the national capital market big enough to attract not only institutional investors, but to become a key driver of domestic wealth creation.  The U.S. Government is supporting this strategy through a technical assistance program led by the Department of the Treasury.

Uzbekistan has its own stock market, which supports trades through the Republican Stock Exchange “Tashkent,” Uzbekistan’s main securities trading platform and only corporate securities exchange (https://www.uzse.uz).  The stock exchange mainly hosts equity and secondary market transactions with shares of state-owned enterprises.  In most cases, government agencies determine who can buy and sell shares and at what prices, and it is often impossible to locate accurate financial reports for traded companies.

The GOU is continuing to liberalize banking sector regulations to facilitate free flows of financial resources into the market.  The law adopted on March 20, 2019 (ZRU-531) has considerably simplified repatriation of capital invested in Uzbekistan’s industrial assets, securities and stock market profits.  According to the new rules, foreign investors that have resident entities in Uzbekistan can convert their dividends and other incomes to foreign currencies and transfer them to their accounts in foreign banks.  Non-resident entities that buy and sell shares of local companies can open bank accounts in Uzbekistan to accumulate their revenues.

Uzbekistan formally accepted IMF Article VIII in October 2003, but due to excessive protectionist measures of the government, businesses had limited access to foreign currency, which stimulated the grey economy and the creation of multiple exchange rate systems.  Effective September 5, 2017, the GOU eliminated the difference between the artificially low official rate and the black-market exchange rate and allowed unlimited non-cash foreign exchange transactions for businesses.  The Law on Currency Regulation (ZRU-573), which fully liberalized currency operations, current cross-border and capital movement transactions, received final approved on October 22, 2019.

Under the law, foreign investors and private sector businesses can have access to various credit instruments on the local market, but the still-overregulated financial system yields unreliable credit terms.  Access to foreign banks is limited and is usually only granted through their joint ventures with local banks.  Commercial banks, to a limited degree, can use credit lines from international financial institutions to finance small and medium sized businesses.

Money and Banking System

As of March 2020, 30 commercial banks operate in Uzbekistan.  Five commercial banks are state-owned, thirteen banks are registered as joint-stock financial organizations (eight of which are partly state-owned), six banks have foreign capital, and six banks are private.  Commercial banks have 854 branches and about 1,100 retail offices throughout the country.  State-owned banks hold 87% of banking sector capital and 84% of banking sector assets, leaving privately owned banks as relatively small niche players.  The nonbanking sector is represented by 56 microcredit organizations and 61 pawn shops.

According to assessments of international rating agencies, including Fitch and Moody’s, the banking sector of Uzbekistan is stable and poses limited near-term risks, primarily due to high concentration and domination of the public sector, which controls over 80% of assets in the banking system.  The average rate of capital adequacy within the system is 23.4%, and the current liquidity rate is 98.1%.  The growing volume of state-led investments in the economy supports the stability of larger commercial banks, which often operate as agents of the government in implementing its development strategy.  Privately owned commercial banks are relatively small niche players.  The government and the Central Bank of Uzbekistan (CBU) still closely monitor commercial banks.

Official information on non-performing assets is not publicly available.  According to the IMF’s 2019 Article IV Consultation report, the share of nonperforming loans out of total gross loans is about 1.3-1.4%.  A majority of Uzbekistan’s commercial banks have earned “stable” ratings from international rating agencies.

In February 2020, the banking sector’s capitalization was about $5.5 billion, and the value of total bank assets in the whole country was equivalent to $28.9 billion.  The three largest state-owned banks – the National Bank of Uzbekistan, Asaka Bank, and Uzpromstroybank – hold 50% of the banking sector’s capital ($2.7 billion) and 49.1% of the assets ($14.4 billion).

Uzbekistan maintains a central bank system.  The Central Bank of Uzbekistan (CBU) is the state issuing and reserve bank and central monetary authority.  The bank is accountable to the Supreme Council of Uzbekistan and is independent of the executive bodies (the bank’s organization chart is available here: http://www.cbu.uz/en/).

In general, any banking activity in Uzbekistan is subject to licensing and regulation by the Central Bank of Uzbekistan.  Foreign banks often feel pressured to establish joint ventures with local financial institutions.  Currently there are six small banks with foreign capital operating in the market, and six foreign banks have accredited representative offices in Uzbekistan, but do not provide direct services to local businesses and individuals.  Information about the status of Uzbekistan’s correspondent banking relationships is not publicly available.

Foreigners and foreign investors can establish bank accounts in local banks without restrictions.  They also have access to local credit, although the terms and interest rates do not represent a competitive or realistic source of financing.

Foreign Exchange and Remittances

Foreign Exchange

Uzbekistan adopted Article VIII of the IMF’s Articles of Agreement in October 2003, but full implementation of its obligations under this article began only in September 2017.  In accordance with new legislation (ZRU 531 of March 2019 and ZRU-573 of October 2019), all businesses, including foreign investors, are guaranteed the ability to convert their dividends and other incomes in local currencies to foreign currencies and transfer to foreign bank accounts for current cross-border, dividend payments, or capital repatriation transactions without limitations, provided they have paid all taxes and other financial obligations in compliance with local legislation.  Uzbekistan authorities may stop the repatriation of a foreign investor’s funds in cases of insolvency and bankruptcy, criminal acts by the foreign investor, or when so directed by arbitration or a court decision.

The exchange rate is determined by the CBU, which insists that it is based on free market forces (9,514 soum per U.S dollar as of March 3, 2020).  After the almost 50% devaluation of the national currency in September 2017, the exchange rate has been relatively stable, supported by strong FX reserves ($29.4 billion by February 1, 2020).  The CBU reported it had made $3.6 billion interventions in 2019 in the forex market to support the local currency.

Remittance Policies

President Mirziyoyev launched foreign exchange liberalization reform on September 2017 by issuing a decree “On Priority Measures for Liberalization of Monetary Policy.”  The Law on Currency Regulation (ZRU-573), adopted on October 22, 2019, has liberalized currency exchange operations, current cross-border, and capital movement transactions.  Business entities can purchase foreign currency in commercial banks without restrictions for current international transactions, including import of goods, works and services, repatriation of profits, repayment of loans, payment of travel expenses and other transfers of a non-trade nature.

Banking regulations mandate that the currency conversion process should take no longer than one week.  In 2019 businesses reported that they observed no delays with conversion and remittance of their investment returns, including dividends; return on investment, interest and principal on private foreign debt; lease payments; royalties; and management fees.

Sovereign Wealth Funds

The Fund for Reconstruction and Development of Uzbekistan (UFRD) serves as a sovereign wealth fund.  Uzbekistan’s Cabinet of Ministers, Ministry of Finance, and the five largest state-owned banks were instrumental in establishing the UFRD, and all those institutions have membership on its Board of Directors.

The fund does not follow the voluntary code of good practices known as the Santiago Principles, and Uzbekistan does not participate in the IMF-hosted International Working Group on sovereign wealth funds.  The GOU established the UFRD in 2006, using it to sterilize and accumulate foreign exchange revenues, but officially the goal of the UFRD is to provide government-guaranteed loans and equity investments to strategic sectors of the domestic economy.

The UFRD does not invest, but instead provides debt financing to SOEs for modernization and technical upgrade projects in sectors that are strategically important for Uzbekistan’s economy.  All UFRD loans require government approval.

Investment Climate Statements
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