Malta not comparable to Cyprus: Maltese central bank

The governor of the Central Bank of Malta, Josef Bonnici, has warned against comparisons being made between Cyprus and Malta in the Cypriot banking crisis.

Malta's banking sector is about eight times the size of the country's gross domestic product, like Cyprus, but Bonnici, who is also a member of the European Central Bank's Governing Council, told Reuters that comparisons were misleading.

International banks in Malta that conduct hardly any business in the domestic economy hold the bulk of those assets, accounting for six times Malta's GDP.

Domestic banks' assets amounted to "just below 300 percent" of GDP, which by international standards was "within normal limits", Bonnici told Reuters by telephone.

Bonnici rejected comments in the international press that questioned whether Malta and Luxembourg could suffer the same sort of banking crisis as seen in Cyprus due to the huge size of their banking sectors relative to their economies.

Unlike Cypriot banks, he said, Malta's domestic banks were not very active internationally. They did not have a high dependence on foreign sources of funds or high exposure to losses on foreign assets and had a very strong local deposit base.

"The problems facing Cypriot banks include losses made on their holdings of Greek bonds, whereas Maltese domestic banks have limited exposure to securities issued by the (euro zone bailout) program countries," he said.

Malta's domestic banking system, he said, is dominated by two banks - HSBC Malta and Bank of Valletta, both highly profitable - which account for well over 90 per cent of banking business on the island.

"The provision of loan and deposit facilities is crucial to the economy and the overall asset- to-GDP ratio for this group of banks stood at 218 percent in December 2012," Bonnici said.

Malta's banking system is made up of three distinct categories of banks: the core domestic banks, HSBC Malta and Bank of Valletta; a couple of small domestic banks whose assets amounted to 77 percent of GDP, and international banks, according to the central bank.

(Reporting by Chris Scicluna; Editing by Susan Fenton)