Across the Gulf region, most conventional lenders and Islamic banks cleaned up their balance sheets from the debris of the financial crisis and switched to the expansion gear.
According to the corporate banking benchmarking report published by advisory firm Boston Consulting Group (BCG) earlier on Friday, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) banks' corporate banking divisions are at peak levels in terms of revenues and net profits. "They even crossed the pre-crisis levels seen in 2008," said the analysis.
Local lenders in the six GCC countries, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Oman, benefitted from relative political stability at home, capital outflows in turmoil-struck Arab nations such as Egypt or Syria, and ongoing high oil prices which gained 15.34 percent per barrel in U.S. crude over the last 12 months.
TAILWINDS FOR GROWTH
Thanks to these tailwinds, GCC lenders expand at home and abroad as an announcement in recent months. Net profits of GCC banks increased in the first quarter by 7 percent year on year to hit 4.6 billion U.S. dollars amid a rise in loan activity and rising deposit volumes.
The UAE topped the first quarter ranking with profits edging up by 18.7 percent, followed by their counterparts in Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, where net income increased year on year by 7.3 percent, 2.6 percent and 2.4 percent, respectively.
In Saudi Arabia, the biggest GCC country, lending increased in the first four months by nearly 5.5 percent to 1.05 trillion Saudi riyal (283.5 million U.S. dollars), the Saudi Gazette reported in June.
Meanwhile, Islamic banking in Oman has taken shape. Oman was the last Gulf state to legalize banking in 2011 in line with Islamic law or Shari'ah. Bank Nizwa started operations in January 2013 as the first Islamic bank in the South-Eastern Gulf state.
The GCC bankers also strengthen their beachheads outside the region. Earlier last week, Kuwait's biggest lender NBK said it generated 22 percent of its income from outside the Northern Gulf state, the highest foreign share in profits ever.
NBK recently opened its first branch in Abu Dhabi, capital of the UAE. All local banks in the UAE which received liquidity support from the central bank in 2009 in the wake of the financial crisis paid the state support back in the first half of the year.
In addition, the Emirates Islamic Bank (EIB) announced that the buy-in of its rival Dubai Bank back in autumn 2011 had been successfully completed and that it will open more branches.
"We are going to increase the number of branches from 38 to 48 and we started hiring new staff and many of them are European bankers from those countries that were hit badly by the eurozone debt crisis," said Faisal Aqil, EIB deputy CEO.
The National Bank of Abu Dhabi (NABD) said last Friday that it would increase the share capital of its branch in Geneva, Switzerland, from 40 million Swiss francs (37.6 million dollars) to 140 million Swiss francs (131.6 million dollars).
On June 2, Raghavan Seetharaman, chief executive of Doha Bank, one of the leading retail banks in Qatar, said he plans to expand to Hong Kong, India and Saudi Arabia to generate new growth in promising markets.
Meanwhile, Al Baraka Banking Group, the oldest Islamic bank in Bahrain, looks more to the West. Its CEO Adnan Yousif said in April when presenting the bank's five-year plan that the bank was eyeing Africa as the next stop in its global quest for growth.