The banking sector in the United Arab Emirates had many reasons to celebrate at the end of 2010.
Despite a tumultuous year, from the fallout of the Dubai World (DW) restructuring to the souring economy, the country’s banks appear poised for a steady, albeit slow, recovery.
At UAE banks, at the onset of 2010, the mood was grim, despite Abu Dhabi’s $10 billion lifeline to help Dubai service its maturing debt. UAE banks had been downgraded by credit agencies due to asset quality concerns and the Dubai Financial Market’s banking index had plunged 73 percent since peaking in February 2008, including 23 percent in the five weeks.
Banks spent the bulk of 2010 plagued by uncertainties arising from restructuring negotiations as they tried to navigate a weak economy, with property prices in Dubai shedding nearly half their value since 2008 and thousands of the UAE’s 90 percent expatriate population losing their jobs and residence permits.
Dubai-based banks were the hardest hit given their exposure to DW and its troubled subsidiary Nakheel, as well as to large real estate developers Emaar and Union Properties.
UAE banks have maintained their tight credit policy which could depress their net income by nearly 10 per cent through 2011, a key Saudi bank said. In contrast with the UAE, banks in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Oman are gradually opening up their credit lines after nearly two years of slow lending growth because of the 2008 global fiscal distress and regional debt default problems, National Commercial Bank said. “The situation in the UAE contrasts sharply to that of Saudi Arabia and the slow momentum is part due to tighter regulations about consumer credit, which are expected to cut bank earnings by some 10 per cent this year,” it said. It showed the annual rate of growth of overall bank loans in the UAE reached 1.9 per cent Year to Year, to a total of Dh982.1 billion in April.
The annual rate of bank credit growth during the three months to May was negative, 1.3 percent. The rate of growth in private sector credit was 1.9 per cent, as compared to a sharp 46.6 per cent drop in credit to the public sector.