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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

S&P says GCC bank profiles to stabilise in 2018

According to a report by the rating agency, bank liquidity improved last year but lending growth will remain “muted” and cost of risk will increase

GCC banks are set to see a stabilisation of their financial profiles, according to S&P. The National
GCC banks are set to see a stabilisation of their financial profiles, according to S&P. The National

The financial profiles of GCC banks are set to stabilise by the second half of 2018 as they absorb the effect of softer economic conditions over the past two years, according to a report by the rating agency Standard & Poor’s.

“We think GCC banks’ profitability will stabilise at a lower level than historically, underpinned by an increased cost of risk and the introduction of value added tax, some of which banks will pass on to their clients,” S&P said.

However, muted loan growth, higher cost of risk and the introduction of VAT in the region are likely to keep bank profits and lending growth lower than in past years, the report said. Most banks in the GCC will have realised the impact of sluggish economic growth in recent years on the quality of their assets by the middle of 2018, the report said, noting that this comes after two years of “significant pressure” on the sector.

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In its corresponding sector outlook last year, S&P said “the end of the commodities boom” had increased pressure on banks’ asset quality and profitability in 2016 and that further weakening was likely into 2017 and 2018.

According to the report, GCC banks’ liquidity improved over 2017 and no major change is foreseen in 2018. Continued debt or sukuk issuance by GCC governments this year will absorb some of the liquidity without a major change in bank risk appetite.

Though, the cost of risk to banks is set to increase this year due to their adoption of new IFRS 9 accounting standards, and the higher amount of restructured and past due loans on banks’ balance sheets.

Meanwhile, lending growth is expected to remain muted, S&P said, citing lower oil prices to that have slowed GCC economies and reduced growth opportunities for their banking systems.

S&P forecasts unweighted average economic growth of 2.5 per cent for the six GCC countries in 2018-2019, less than half the growth in 2012.

Private sector lending growth is forecast to rise to 3 to 4 per cent in 2018-2019 from 2.6 per cent on average in the first nine months of 2017, supported by initiatives such as Dubai Expo 2020, Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, Kuwait’s Vision 2035 and the World Cup 2022 in Qatar.

A “surge in geopolitical risk and ensuing delays of some of these initiatives could severely affect our base-case scenario”, S&P said.

The majority (72 per cent) of S&P-rated banks in the GCC carry a stable outlook with strong capitalisation, although many Qatari banks carry a negative outlook due to geopolitical factors, it added.

Other rating agencies have also predicted a stable outlook for GCC banks this year, noting their “resilience” against flat economic growth.