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Moodyʼs considers downgrade of embattled FHB bank

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FHB mortgage bank is under review for a downgrade by Moody’s Investors Service, according to a press release from the ratings agency yesterday. Moody’s cited negative publicity as well as government actions against FHB bank. Observers have said the bank is being targeted because its chairman owns media outlets that criticize the government.

Moody’s said it is considering changes to FHB’s baseline credit assessment, long-term deposit ratings, and long-term Counterparty Risk Assessments, but will not make changes to the bank’s short-term Not-Prime deposit ratings and Not-Prime Counterparty Risk Assessment, according to the press release.

Moody’s cites the greater risks to the bank’s solvency and overall business prospects after “continued sizable losses during Q1 2016”, along with actions taken by the Hungarian government against the bank, including a police investigation and fines levied against FHB by the Hungarian National Bank (MNB) for alleged market misconduct, as the reasons for reevaluating FHB’s ratings. Moody’s also noted its concern regarding “the effects of negative publicity on the bank’s franchise”.

FHB Chairman Zoltán Spéder is the owner of Central European Media & Publishing (CEMP) Zrt., which publishes index.hu, portfolio.hu, napi.hu and also owns InfoRádió. The media outlets are often seen as critical of the Hungarian government, despite their generally politically neutral coverage.

Gergely Dudás, editor-in-chief of index.hu, a leading news portal owned by Spéder, addressed claims that the Hungarian authorities are launching cases against FHB as a means of targeting Spéder’s media holdings, in an opinion piece published on June 12.

Dudás wrote that it was possible that the case against FHB is intended to pressure Spéder’s media company, or even make him give it up.

MNB recently fined FHB HUF 105 million for charges of violating the rules prohibiting illegal market manipulation. MNB alleges that FHB published misleading information regarding the subscription of euro bonds issues in December 2012 and May 2013. FHB said it is planning to appeal the fine on Friday, June 10.

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