Growth potential of Qatari banks 'tempered by Market constraints and key concerns'
- Qatar: Tuesday, October 16 - 2012 at 14:17
- PRESS RELEASE
The State of Qatar will witness strong lending growth over the next half decade, driven by major Government infrastructure projects. Qatari banks are likely though to be stretched in funding this lending growth as a result of their current high level of balance sheet leverage.
Concurrently, key concerns remain over the banks' increasing reliance on foreign interbank borrowing, growing real estate exposure, and aggressive international expansion plans that could dilute their earnings. These are the key findings of a recent report, which provides an in-depth analysis of the Qatari banking sector. The report is published by SICO Research, a division of Bahrain-based regional investment bank, Securities & Investment Company (SICO).
Qatar has indicated that it will be undertaking major infrastructure projects worth QAR820bn over the next five years, This should lead to strong credit demand in the area of 18 to 20% CAGR during 2011-2016, according to SICO's report. However, Qatari banks in general are likely to find it difficult to sustain growth in lending of such a magnitude, given their current level of balance sheet leverage, while lacking any fresh infusion of deposits or capital. The report notes that the government has actively supported Qatari banks in the past, and is likely to offer further help to ensure adequate funding. Capital or deposit infusion by the State would significantly enhance banks' lending capacities, while easing stretched balance sheets. However, deposits from the public sector have proved to be unstable over the past few years, limiting local banks' ability to fund long-term projects. In SICO's view, Qatari banks are more likely to rely on other long-term liabilities to participate in these projects, although this will also limit their margin spreads, since Government-supported development projects are unlikely to offer particularly attractive yields.
The Qatar Central Bank (QCB) has capped the retail lending rate at 1.5% above the overnight lending rate, which currently stands at 4.5%. SICO foresees that this cap will considerably constrain retail banking profitability, particularly in a low-interest rate environment.
A lending rate cap, SICO rationalizes, prevents banks from spreading their risk by charging differential rates to customers of different creditworthiness. Qatari banks will likely charge higher retail fees, or alternately focus on high creditworthy clients.
The potential measures will lower delinquencies, and hence lower future provisioning requirements, supporting profitability. Despite a low-interest rate environment, the report notes that national banks will continue their retail business, since it offers operational diversification.
In addition, despite the QAR2m lending cap for nationals imposed by the QCB, banks are expected to benefit from higher disposable incomes in Qatar. Incomes arose from salary increases granted to public sector employees in the third quarter of 2011, and subsequently followed by the private sector. Higher disposable incomes and lower interest rates are likely to reduce domestic borrowers' debt loads, while increasing bank deposits, and providing improved cross-selling opportunities.
According to the report, Qatari banks margin spreads are expected to come under pressure during the second half of 2012 and through 2013, driven by asset spread contraction. Margins are likely to contract by between 20 and 30 basis points in 2012, due to factors which include a lower demand for higher-yielding local currency loans, and a balance sheet shift towards lower-yielding public sector lending. At a systemic level, the report notes, a move by national banks to increase their lending towards the public sector will negatively impact their asset yields. Coupled with a decline in public sector deposits, and funding through more expensive private sector liabilities, should further shrink banks' net interest margins.
Lending growth in the State grew strongly at 36% year-on-year in the first half of 2012, due to the significant number of infrastructure projects currently underway. Qatari banks are witnessing a surge in foreign currency dominated lending. This is leading to a 'dollarization' of the banks' balance sheets, as they continue to lend in foreign currency, with non-Riyal lending soaring by 250% over 2010.
Foreign currency credit accounted for 51% of total lending during the first half of 2012, up from 22% in 2010. To avoid large currency-related balance sheets mismatches, banks are funding their non-Riyal books through the interbank window from international banks. These borrowings have grown to 129% of equity in July 2012, compared with 104% in December 2010, making these banks' funding position, in SICO's opinion, increasingly vulnerable.
The QCB relaxed real estate lending regulations in the first quarter of 2011, allowing banks to increase their real estate exposure to up to 150% of their capital and reserves, compared with 100% earlier.
This regulatory change, together with the government's increased infrastructure spending, resulted in real estate lending surging to 32% of total lending in 2011 compared with 21% in 2010. This spree has made banks' lending portfolios more vulnerable to any decline in real estate prices. The real estate concentration of Qatari banks is high in comparison with their GCC peers.
Qatari banks are aggressively seeking international expansion for earnings diversification, as well as for growth opportunities. Although international acquisitions could be positive for the banks' balance sheets, the impact on their share price will depend on each target acquisition's valuation, attractiveness and post acquisition consolidation. Qatari banks' investment in associates proved to be earnings-dilutive in 2010 and 2011, with investment returns being considerably below banks' return on equity. The generally large amount of goodwill paid in making for acquisitions was one of the factors that led to lower returns on investment.
Listed Qatari banks under SICO's coverage are trading at a modest premium to other GCC banks, which SICO believes is justified by the strong balance sheet growth opportunities for these banks. SICO's estimates suggest that these banks in general are trading around their fair value, and offer limited upside potential.
Articles in this section are primarily provided directly by the companies appearing or PR agencies which are solely responsible for the content. The companies concerned may use the above content on their respective web sites provided they link back to http://www.ameinfo.com
Any opinions, advice, statements, offers or other information expressed in this section of the AMEinfo.com Web site are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Mediaquest FZ LLC. Mediaquest FZ LLC is not responsible or liable for the content, accuracy or reliability of any material, advice, opinion or statement in this section of the AMEinfo.com Web site.