x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Qatar National Bank to become largest Arab lender by assets

Qatar National Bank, which agreed to buy Eqypt's National Société Générale Bank, is set to become the first Arab lender with assets exceeding US$100 billion.

Qatar National Bank (QNB) , which agreed to buy Eqypt's National Société Générale Bank, is set to become the first Arab lender with assets exceeding US$100 billion amid a drive to tap consumer lending in more populous markets.

QNB said on December 13 it will pay $1.97bn for 77 per cent of National Société Générale Bank. The deal will give the lender, which overtook Saudi Arabia's National Commercial Bank for the region's top spot a year ago, a foothold in the Arab nation of more than 83 million. It will also boost the bank's assets by 11 per cent to about $107bn, more than double their value at the end of 2009 and six times above the Middle East average, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

QNB, which raised $2bn in bonds this year, said it also seeks to buy a majority stake in one of Turkey's top 10 banks as part of a strategy to more than double the ratio of profit it derives from global operations by 2017. The plan mirrors the drive by Qatar, home to 1.8 million, to use a cash windfall from liquefied natural gas holdings to snap up assets worldwide, including London's Harrods department store.

"QNB is going the right way, expanding into populous markets," Rami Sidani, the head of Middle East and North Africa investments at Schroder Investment Management, said. "Qatar is a market driven by government lending, not retail-focused, given its small population. QNB has decided to expand into markets where it can benefit from real retail dynamics."

With NSGB, Egypt's second-biggest publicly traded lender, QNB will own about 160 branches across Egyptian cities, more than main rival Commercial International Bank Egypt. A foray into Turkey would help the bank secure clout in the biggest economy in the Middle East and eastern Europe after Russia.

Moving into Egypt carries risks since nine out of every 10 adults does not have a bank account, the Middle East's lowest ratio apart from Yemen, according to the World Bank. Political turmoil has also forced Egypt to delay an IMF loan agreement deemed as crucial to revive investments and pry economic growth from near a 19-year low.

* Bloomberg News