According to Expert RA Rating Agency, small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) loan portfolio stabilized in 2018, reaching RUB 4.2 trillion. SME debt showed a modestly positive sign in 2018 (+1.1%) for the first time since 2014. Experts observe a stronger growth of new SME lending, which surged to a new high (RUB 6.8 trillion) since 2015. The market was supported by a substantial SME loan rate cutting in 2018.
Early in 2019, the SME finance market concentration was unprecedentedly high. For the last three years, the market dynamics has been determined by Top 30 banks ranked by assets which increased their share of new lending to 74% (up nearly 30 p.p.) in 2018. Larger banks increased their SME lending by a quarter year-on-year (YoY) to RUB 5 trillion, bringing their combined portfolio up to RUB 3 trillion by the beginning of 2019. Meanwhile, other banks new SME lending totaled RUB 1.8 trillion in 2018.
SME loan quality improved last year for the first time since 2014. Non-performing loans (NPLs) totaled RUB 521.8 billion, down 16.2% YoY, and made up 12.4% of the combined SME loan portfolio as at Jan 1 2019, compared with 14.9% a year earlier. The positive trend was driven by the larger banks, whose NPL ratio reduced by 4 p.p. to just 8% as at Jan 1 2019. At the same time, Expert RA notes the widening gap between NPL levels at Top 30 and non-Top 30 banks.
In 2019, the SME finance market will mostly be driven by government support. Russias Ministry of Economic Development (MED) has re-launched the Soft Loans for SME scheme as part of its project to ensure affordable financing for SMEs. The interest rate for borrowers under this scheme is 8.5%, to be applied till 2024. The federal government earmarked more than RUB 9 billion to subsidize interest rates under this scheme in 2019 compared with less than RUB 1.5 billion in 2018. In addition, the MED extended its list of banks authorized to lend to SMEs to 70 from 15.
In Expert RAs base-case scenario, new SME lending will increase by 15%. The base-case scenario assumes Brent oil year-average price of US$60/bbl, annual inflation rate of 4.8-5.0%, and the key rate reduced to 7.25%. Based on these assumptions, analysts expect new SME lending to increase by at least 15% in 2019. In the worst-case scenario (Brent oil year-average price of US$50/bbl, inflation rate of around 7.0%, and the key rate increased to 8.00%), new SME lending will increase by just 5%.