Kazakh tenge under pressure as state spending fuels imports - banker

ALMATY, Sept 6 (Reuters) - Kazakhstan's tenge currency, which could have benefited from the surge in the Russian rouble this year, is under pressure due to increased government spending which is sucking in imports, a senior Kazakh banker said.

The tenge's KZT= historical average versus the rouble RUB= , is about 5 per rouble, but it is now trading at about 7.8 tenge per rouble, significantly below that average.

This is despite the rouble becoming the world's best-performing currency so far this year, buoyed by emergency capital controls rolled out by the Russian central bank in a bid to halt a mass sell-off in the wake of the Ukraine conflict.

"The (current) exchange rate of 470-480 (tenge per dollar) is probably normal from the macroeconomic stability point of view, but because of what is happening with the Russian rouble one could say the tenge should strengthen," Bank CenterCredit (BCC) CCBN.KZ chief executive Galim Khussainov said in an interview.

"It is not strengthening though and there are certain reasons for that: our exports are growing too, but there is no mandatory foreign currency sale, plus enormous state spending stimulates imports which prevents the tenge from appreciating."

A stronger tenge would help Kazakhstan to combat inflation, which rose to 16.1% last month.

Khussainov said the tenge's weakness has created opportunities for Kazakh businesses, but the overall recovery is uneven or "K-shaped" because of issues such as Western sanctions on Russian buyers of traditional Kazakh exports.

Kazakh exports to Russia, for example, have suffered because some Russian importers of metals and minerals have been hit by the Western sanctions.

Some Kazakh companies, though, are reaping benefits from the tenge exchange rate movement, especially those who compete with Russian firms.

"Because of Russia's problems with industry and the exchange rate, our producers have become very competitive on the regional market and they are taking advantage of it," Khussainov said.

Some entrepreneurs are also reselling goods to Russians not affected by sanctions which they cannot import directly.

Kazakhstan, for example, shipped $80 million worth of mobile phones to its northern neighbour in the first half of this year, an increase of more than 2,000 times versus the same period last year, based on official statistics.

CenterCredit bought the Kazakh subsidiary of Russia's Alfa Bank this year after sanctions forced most Russian lenders to leave the In Kazakh market. the most recent deal, Sberbank SBER.MM sold its local unit to a Kazakh state holding.

CenterCredit, majority owned by Kazakh businessman Bakhytbek Baiseitov, plans to complete the merger by the end of this year, and aims to increase its net profit to more than 100 billion tenge ($212 million) this year, Khussainov said.

The oil-rich Central Asian country is set to increase budget spending by 17% to 18.8 trillion tenge ($40 billion) this year.

($1 = 470.7000 tenge)
Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov. Editing by Jane Merriman

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