Against a background of continued high volatility in the international banking market, headed by weakness and low confidence in European banks, which recently has been exacerbated by the banking crisis in Cyprus, the Gulf Co-operative Council (GCC) banking sector provides a sea of relative calm.
Positive attributes for the operating environment include economic growth and continued investment. Banks remain on the whole strongly capitalised with solid levels of liquidity and good profitability. That is not to say there are no challenges facing banks but, for most, their financial positions have strengthened over the last few years.
Banks that were hit by both the regional downturn and global financial crisis have largely cleaned up their loan and investment books.
There, of course, have been some high profile casualties but these banks have either exited the system or been strengthened through capital injection. Importantly, there have been no large systemic issues.
2012 saw further good progress in the recovery for the GCC banking sector following the problems, which occurred from the financial crisis some four years ago. The GCC banking sector recorded higher profit, total assets and equity in 2012. Only five – against ten in 2011 and more than one-third in 2010 – of the 50 banks in the GCC 50 list recorded lower profit in 2012 with the majority of banks recording double digit increases. High revenues from oil production and associated investment in regional economies have obviously helped but GCC regulators have also played an important part in the region’s banking sector recovery.
This is in contrast to other countries where banking collapses have sucked the life out of economies.
Improved profits for Gulf banks in 2012 were driven by expanding loan asset growth, increasing non-interest income such as fees and commission, and an overall fall in provision charges for loans and investments. These benefits offset a marginal tightening of spreads as competition for customer deposit funding remained intense.