Banks in the oil-rich Gulf Cooperation Council countries have announced a mixed set of second quarter earnings, with profitability of core banking operations among several lenders increasing above expectations, but low credit growth and loan provisions continuing to be a drag on balance sheets, analysts and bankers say.
Despite clear recovery signs since overcoming the worst of the global financial crisis, corporate loan restructurings, ongoing real-estate market weakness and high provisions continue to take their toll on asset quality in the GCC and-subsequently-on regional banks.
Hopes that bank lending would pick up after two lacklustre years have been dashed since demonstrations swept large parts of the Arab world, leading to the toppling of the rulers of Egypt and Tunisia.
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"It is obvious that GCC banks are still worried about corporate defaulting as a continuous effect of the 2008 crisis, therefore, they continue using the high operating profits environment and lowering of expenses to increase their provisions and providing more cover to their NPLs," said Mohammad Ali Yasin, chief investment officer of Abu Dhabi-based CAPM Investment.
In Saudi Arabia, the Middle East's biggest economy, aggregate net profits for banks recorded 9 per cent quarter-on-quarter growth in the three-month period ended June 30, driven by stronger net interest income and lower operating expenses, according to CAPM Investment research.
Qatar National Bank posted a 29 per cent jump in quarterly profit to 1.8 billion riyals (Dh1.8 billion), buoyed by increased lending and customer deposits.