Financial fragility or what went right and what could go wrong in central European banking?
Despite the fact that banks in Central Europe are burdened by extraordinarily high bad loan ratios, the recent financial crisis in South East Asia and Russia, has not led to a massive failure of banks in the region. In this paper, we study economic trends and policies that may have helped to insulate CEECs from international financial contagion. Answering what went right over the past few years may not only help to further positive developments, but it may also highlight possible weaknesses that could result in future financial instabilities in the banking sectors of CEECs. Using data available from the IMF, and the BIS for nine Central European economies (Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovak Republic, and Slovenia), our results indicate that an economic constellation unique to the early transition period rather than deliberate policy decisions have stabilized the CEECs. Specifically, the lack of recent banking crisis can be attributed to a lack of overly optimistic credit expansion, despite several years of real economic growth, to underdeveloped asset markets, and to a decline of trade relations with the former Soviet Union. Future problems may arise as banks are beginning to extend credit more to an expanding real sector than in the past, as asset markets become more developed, or as export growth to the EU may decline with European growth slowing down. Thus, improvements in bank regulation and bank supervision should receive a high priority among policy makers in CEECs.
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