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Published: Tuesday October 1, 2013 MYT 9:55:17 PM
Updated: Tuesday October 1, 2013 MYT 9:56:09 PM

Kazakh leader appoints new central bank chief, fund changes eyed

ALMATY (Reuters) - Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev sacked the head of the central bank on Tuesday and replaced him with Deputy Prime Minister Kairat Kelimbetov, a move that could herald changes in the management of pension fund assets.

The presidential press service said monetary policy would remain unchanged.

Outgoing Grigory Marchenko, 53, had been at the helm of the central bank since 2009 and was largely responsible for reshaping the banking and pension systems in Central Asia's largest economy.

Nazarbayev, a 73-year-old former steelworker who has ruled the oil-rich state of 17 million for more than two decades, in January ordered the assets of 10 Kazakh private pension funds to be corralled into a state fund called GNPF.

As new central bank head, Kelimbetov will be responsible for managing the assets of the single fund.

"It would have been a better decision not to let Marchenko go and instead appoint him to manage the assets of this single pension fund - to be responsible for the decisions for which he himself had lobbied," said analyst Aidos Sarym.

Marchenko and Kelimbetov, 44, have differed more than once on the way Kazakhstan's reforms should develop.

Shortly after quitting as deputy prime minister in 2004, Marchenko blasted Kelimbetov - then economy minister - over what he called "fake calculations" for the state housing programme. Kelimbetov, in turn, accused him of being too emotional.

A DIFFERENT STRATEGY?

Under Marchenko, the central bank effectively turned into the country's largest asset manager.

After the merger of pension funds the bank would manage a total of some $120 billion (73.95 billion pounds), including $23 billion in pension fund assets. This represents 60 percent of the country's gross domestic product, which stood at $200 billion in 2012, Marchenko said in an interview with Reuters last month.

Despite Nazarbayev assuring of the continuity of the central bank's policy, some analysts said there could be some drastic changes under Kelimbetov.

"Most probably, the process of regulating the single pension fund will change. The pension fund will be more oriented towards investment in infrastructure projects," said Sabit Khakimzhanov, chief analyst at Halyk Finance.

"One cannot exclude that the assets of the National Fund will also be partly invested in infrastructure projects."

The National Fund, collecting windfall oil revenues and worth $66 billion, is now 100 percent invested abroad. Marchenko did not rule out that with time some of it could be invested in paying projects in Kazakhstan, subject to rigid expertise.

He told Reuters that he opted for 20 percent of the single state pension fund's assets to be invested abroad in 3 to 5 years, boosting this share from today's 10 percent.

The government was charged by Nazarbayev with completing pension reform by the end of this year, but Marchenko told Reuters that it was not certain that this deadline would be met.

In 2011, Marchenko was a candidate for the top job at the International Monetary Fund.

"I would not be surprised if tomorrow he turns up at a Russian bank or an international structure," said analyst Sarym.

Kelimbetov graduated from Moscow State University and Georgetown University in the United States. One of his recent posts was that of economy and budget planning minister.

"I believe that his knowledge of the country's economy and financial situation will have a positive impact on the work of the National Bank," Nazarbayev said.

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