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The Central Bank governor, Sultan bin Nasser al Suwaidi, answers press questions after a conference with representatives from financial institutions from around the world at Le Royal Meridian Hotel, in Abu Dhabi on Oct 27 2008.
The Central Bank governor, Sultan bin Nasser al Suwaidi, answers press questions after a conference with representatives from financial institutions from around the world at Le Royal Meridian Hotel, in Abu Dhabi on Oct 27 2008.

Governor pledges 'cushion' for banks

The Central Bank governor assures depositors and investors that banks remain strong.

ABU DHABI // The Central Bank governor, Sultan bin Nasser al Suwaidi, joined other GCC financial authorities in assuring depositors and investors that banks remain strong, on another day of stock market gyrations and concerns over the vulnerability of property values.

Mr Suwaidi warned that property prices could fall, but said: "UAE banks are cushioned. The banks are safe." His comments came as GCC central bankers and finance chiefs, meeting in Abu Dhabi, sought to calm worries about the health of banking systems in the region. Hamad al Sayyari, the head of the Saudi Arabia Monetary Agency, the kingdom's central bank, said the government has poured about US$3 billion (Dh11bn) into bank deposits in the past two weeks. "Banks in reality are in an excellent position," he said.

The Saudi equity index, the Tadawul, fell 4.1 per cent yesterday, and is down 50 per cent on the year. Meanwhile, in Kuwait, Gulf Bank, a troubled institution Kuwait's central bank stepped in to save on Sunday, sought to assure customers it was operating normally despite a rush of withdrawals early yesterday. The Kuwaiti central bank had appointed a supervisor for Gulf Bank's treasury business after the lender was hit by losses from currency derivative trades. Some investors reacted with anger, urging the government to resign over its handling of the global crisis.

In the UAE, Mr Suwaidi said that the liquidity crunch in the banking sector was easing, but that the Central Bank was ready to do more. "Things are getting better and stabilising," he said. "If there is a need we will do more." The Dubai Financial Market's index fell 5.8 per cent, closing below 3,000, a level not seen since Feb 2005. The index has now lost more than 50 per cent of its value this year. The Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange's index fell two per cent, taking its total loss this year to 27 per cent. Leading losers included First Gulf Bank, Aldar and National Bank of Abu Dhabi.

According to Mr Suwaidi, banks have tapped about Dh7.5bn of emergency funds to cope with the credit market turmoil. "Banks are using only 15 per cent of the Central Bank's facility now," said Mr Suwaidi. Over the past two months, the Central Bank has implemented a range of measures to shore up the financial sector. Deposits were guaranteed at all banks with significant operations and a Dh70bn liquidity facility was made available.

Mr Suwaidi added that even with this measured improvement, the Central Bank is in the process of examining the loans and advances of all banks by the end of the year to determine if "extra provisions" are necessary. shamdan@thenational.ae * With additional reporting by Reuters

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