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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 18 January 2019

Exclusive: Trade Bank of Iraq looking to acquire a Turkish lender

The state-owned bank is expanding in the Arabian Gulf and is looking at up to 7% in revenue growth, says chairman

“We think there will be significant investment by the government in terms of capital expenditure on various projects,” Mr Al Haimus said. Antonie Robertson/The National
“We think there will be significant investment by the government in terms of capital expenditure on various projects,” Mr Al Haimus said. Antonie Robertson/The National

State-owned Trade Bank of Iraq, which has about $20 billion (Dh73.46bn) in assets and focuses on trade finance, is looking to acquire a lender in Turkey, the country's biggest trade partner, after abandoning a previous attempt, said its chairman.

The Iraqi lender is keen on a conventional bank rather than a Sharia-compliant bank that it sought in a previous try, Faisal Al Haimus said. Trade Bank of Iraq began talks earlier this month with the Turkish lender, he said, declining to give a name.

“We had plans to look into acquiring a bank in Turkey [which] we put on hold for a while because of the instability of the Turkish lira,” said Mr Al Haimus. "But now we are reconsidering that because of the improvement in the Turkish lira and its stability. The bank we are looking at now is a conventional bank, and I think it is within the same area of expertise we currently have.”

Trade Bank of Iraq is reconsidering entry into Turkey, which has bilateral trade worth $8bn with Iraq, following an unsuccessful bid to acquire a bank in the Arabian Gulf. The lira dropped nearly 50 per cent against the US dollar in August amid tensions with Washington over the capture of an American pastor, but relations improved following his release.

The currency has since rebounded but remains about 30 per cent down year to date.

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Iraq's $200bn economy is benefiting from a recovery in oil prices this year compared to 2017 and a rise in investment, as Opec’s second largest producer ramped up production. The country’s gross domestic product is forecast to grow further in 2019 to a three-year high due to stronger oil prices, Moody’s Investors Service said last week. The economy will expand 4.1 per cent next year from 2.8 this year, the highest level since output reached 13.1 per cent in 2016.

The Trade Bank of Iraq made its first acquisition in its home country this year through the subscription of an Islamic lender's initial public offering. Its 20 per cent stake in the bank is valued at $20 million, Mr Al Haimus said.

The Islamic lender, which is expected to start operations in the first quarter of next year, will help the Trade Bank of Iraq expand into Sharia-compliant banking and improve its profitability.

Buying a Turkish bank would be the Trade Bank of Iraq’s first overseas acquisition, which will be financed from $350m the lender earmarked for buying assets.

An acquisition will help “diversification into other markets that we think are a good fit for us because rather than going and setting up, there is an existing set-up we can benefit from,” said Mr Al Haimus.

Over the past decade, lenders from the GCC have also made acquisitions in Turkey, which prior to its political clash with Washington, plummeting currency and rising interest rates had stellar economic growth.

The Trade Bank of Iraq is also expanding its footprint in the Gulf with a representative office in Abu Dhabi it set up last year, which it plans to upgrade to a full-fledged operation. The lender wants to open a branch in Saudi Arabia in the first quarter of next year after getting the go-ahead from regulators at home and in the kingdom.

It is banking on increased trade with Saudi Arabia, the Arab world's largest economy, to buoy its business. Bilateral trade between Iraq and Saudi Arabia averages $1 billion, and the bank hopes it will double in the next two years, said Mr Al Haimus.

Ties between Iraq and Saudi Arabia have improved since the 2015 re-opening of the Saudi embassy in Baghdad and the resumption of regular flights between the countries. Riyadh pledged $1.5bn in assistance to Iraq during a February reconstruction conference that raised about $30bn.

Trade finance contributes to at least 75 per cent of the bank’s revenue, with retail banking accounting for the reminder of the lender's income. The bank expects a record revenue of 1 trillion Iraqi dinars (Dh3bn) at the end of this year and is forecasting as much as 7 per cent revenue growth next year, thanks to higher spending by the government on the back of higher oil prices.

“We think there will be significant investment by the government in terms of capital expenditure on various projects in addition obviously to the investments committed by various countries that attended the Iraq reconstruction conference,” Mr Al Haimus said.

Updated: December 17, 2018 03:11 PM

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