GCC Islamic Banks’ Growth Expected to Moderate in 2017-18, Standard & Poor’s Report Suggests

2017-04-23 - 3:48 p

Bahrain Mirror: The economic slowdown experienced by the GCC countries following the oil price decline and consequent fiscal tightening will continue to apply pressure on asset growth and profitability of banks including Islamic banks in 2017 and 2018, according to rating agency Standard & Poor's (S&P).

GCC countries include Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, KSA, and UAE.

S&P forecasts oil prices will stabilize at $50 per barrel in 2017 and 2018, with unweighted average GDP growth in the six GCC countries at 1.9 per cent in 2017 and 2.4 per cent in 2018, after 2.3 per cent in 2016. 

Asset growth stabilized at 6.4 per cent in 2016 for Islamic and conventional banks, compared with 6.6 per cent and 6.9 per cent respectively in 2015.

"In our base-case scenario, we assume that asset growth will drop to about 5 per cent as governments' spending cuts and revenue-boosting initiatives, such as tax introductions, reduce opportunities in the corporate and retail sectors," said S&P Global Ratings Head of Islamic Finance Dr. Mohammad Damak.

Analysts expect region's banks to become more cautious and selective in chasing high-quality lending opportunities resulting in lower asset growth. However analysts say the story is not the same for all Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. Although the economic slowdown was and will remain more pronounced in Saudi Arabia, Islamic banks' growth accelerated there in 2016, thanks to their strategy to increase their foray into the corporate and small and mid-size (SME) sectors.

By contrast, the slowdown was deeper in Qatar. Asset growth was about nil in Kuwait over the past year. Despite the tepid economy and the drop in real estate prices in the UAE, Islamic banks continued to expand at high single digit figure.

According to S&P the asset quality indicators of GCC Islamic banks remain on a par with those of their conventional counterparts. Both Islamic and conventional banks are well entrenched in their local real economies in the GCC.

"As the economic cycle turns, we think that asset quality indicators will continue to deteriorate in 2017-2018. The weakening that has already occurred was not noticeable in 2016 because - as is typical - banks started to restructure their exposures to adapt to the shift in the economic environment. Therefore, we saw an increase in restructured loans in the GCC in 2016, but we didn't observe a marked increase in nonperforming loans (NPLs) or cost of risk," said Damak.

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