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Banks in Asia have to contend with U.S. economy's slowdown: S&P

Banks in Asia have to contend with subprime write-downs, tightening markets, and the ailing U.S. economy--like being hit left, right, and center. But it is the U.S. economy's slowdown that could potentially deliver the significant blow, said Standard & Poor's Ratings Services in a report on Asia ex-Japan banks, titled "Asian Banks Bracing For Triple Whammy Of Write-Downs, Tightening Markets, And Economic Slowdown."

"Majority of the rated banks in Asia are well placed to weather the storm, albeit with likely declining profitability in 2008," said Standard & Poor's credit analyst Ritesh Maheshwari. "An economic slowdown will result in asset quality deterioration for the Asian banks. Default rates are at a historical low and can only go up from here."

"We believe that the banking systems in Pakistan, Korea, Philippines, and Thailand are relatively more vulnerable considering their respective structural strength and dependence on their economies," Mr. Maheshwari said.

Nevertheless, Asian banks have improved financial profiles after about five years of firm economic growth, and they should have some cushion to help withstand shocks.

"Whether that cushion is thick enough depends on the severity and duration of a possible U.S. recession," Mr. Maheshwari said.

Asian banks have been able to absorb the initial waves of market revaluation of the U.S. subprime exposure--partly because of the limited direct exposure to this sector compared with their U.S. and European counterparts. However, there remains a risk of further write-downs should global market sentiment toward such securities or underlying subprime mortgage performance worsen.

"The total exposure of the rated Asian banks to structured instruments is about US$34 billion. Considering that the total shareholder equity of these banks is nearly 10 times this amount, the likely write-downs can be easily absorbed by them," Mr. Maheshwari noted.

(This is press release of Standard & Poor's)

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