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Banking consolidation in the GCC requires attention to competition

Pietro Calice's picture
Also available in: Arabic | French
National Bank of Abu Dhabi - Ijanderson977 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
National Bank of Abu Dhabi, UAE. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Gulf banking markets may have entered an important phase of consolidation, with the potential to dramatically reshape both the role and the intermediation capacity of the industry. A few days ago, two large banks in the UAE, National Bank of Abu Dhabi and First Gulf Bank, agreed on a tie-up to create a national champion and regional powerhouse with $170 billion in total assets. In Oman, Bank Sohar and Bank Dhofar are in advanced merger talks. Bank mergers are expected to take place in Bahrain and Qatar as well.

The protracted downward trend in oil prices is threatening economic growth and fiscal sustainability in the region. This is having an impact on the banking systems. Banks are increasingly facing pressure on liquidity in the face of both private and public deposit outflows. This coupled with a low interest rate environment in the context of pegged currencies is eroding margins. Capital buffers are strong yet asset quality may deteriorate if oil prices remain low for a prolonged period and economic growth decelerates further. Therefore, in a context largely characterized by fragmented markets, consolidation may help achieve efficiency gains and ultimately preserve financial stability.

However, it is important that banking consolidation in the Gulf does not come at the detriment of competition. International experience shows that healthy bank competition generally promotes access to finance and improves the efficiency of financial intermediation, without necessarily eroding the stability of the banking system. Bank competition in the region is traditionally weak largely due to strict entry requirements, restrictions to bank activities, relatively weak credit information systems, and lack of competition from foreign banks and nonbank financial institutions. While increased market concentration does not necessarily imply greater market power, there is a risk that the current and prospective wave of industry consolidation may have long-lasting negative effects on competition if left unchecked.

Defying gravity? Chinese banks respond to stimulus, increase lending

James Seward's picture

InstabilityThere has been a noticeable lack of entries to the East Asia & Pacific finance blog recently, but unfortunately I've been otherwise occupied on a trip in Beijing. It has certainly been a busy time here in China's capital with the National People's Congress (NPC) going on. However, I haven't seen much of it other than the long traffic jams caused by the road closures. The NPC meetings covered some of the domestic economic stimulus plans, but it has not dealt directly with financial sector issues. Maybe it did not need to since the banks here have already responded to the stimulus.

A recent China Daily report had a great graphic that showed the recent boom in lending by the banking sector, which corresponds very nicely to the announcement of the original economic stimulus plan. As I highlighted in a prior blog post, the $586 billion economic stimulus plan announced in November was only 30 percent funded from the central government, and the expectation was that much of the rest was to come from state-owned banks. Well, it seems they have delivered with gusto!

Slower growth forecasted in East Asia – but things could be worse

James I Davison's picture

Upon releasing its half-yearly economic report of East Asia and Pacific early today, the World Bank is forecasting slower growth and intensifying economic turmoil in the region’s developing countries. But it could be worse, said Jim Adams, World Bank vice president for the East Asia and Pacific region, quoted in an AP article.