Saudi Aramco signs preliminary gas deal with Shell

Saudi Aramco has signed a preliminary deal to pursue international gas opportunities with Royal Dutch Shell. (Reuters)
Updated 08 March 2018
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Saudi Aramco signs preliminary gas deal with Shell

LONDON/DUBAI: State oil giant Saudi Aramco signed a preliminary deal to pursue international gas opportunities with Royal Dutch Shell on Thursday as part of top crude exporter Saudi Arabia’s diversification drive before the listing of Aramco.
The memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed in London between the two companies was during the official visit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to Britain, and would include gas upstream and liquefaction projects.
“It is a discussion that began some time ago and now we have signed a memorandum to work on gas projects from upstream to downstream across the world and in Saudi Arabia. Concrete projects would be announced in due course,” Shell Chief Executive Ben van Beurden told Reuters after the signing ceremony.
Last year, industry sources told Reuters Saudi Arabia and international oil companies had discussed gas venture opportunities inside the Kingdom and abroad.
Aramco is gearing up for a share listing later this year, aiming to get a valuation of up to $2 trillion in what could be the world’s biggest initial public offering (IPO).
The Kingdom has a long-term goal of increasing the use of gas for domestic power generation, thus reducing oil burning at home and freeing up more crude for export.
Expanding its gas portfolio inside the Kingdom as well as abroad could help increase Aramco’s valuation as it generates more revenue from exports than selling oil at lower domestic prices — Saudi Arabia is the world’s fifth-biggest oil consumer despite being only the 20th-biggest economy.
Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih, who is also Aramco’s chairman, had said Aramco was interested in investing in international upstream ventures, particularly gas, and could invest in importing gas into the kingdom.
Diversifying gas assets abroad would help Aramco achieve a better valuation and is attractive for investors, industry sources has said. Riyadh also plans to raise domestic gas prices, a move seen as an incentive for foreign companies.
Aramco controls gas reserves in excess of 8 trillion cubic meters, according to BP’s annual energy review. The Saudi company has said it wants to explore for gas in the shallow waters of the Red Sea as well as onshore shale gas.


UAE’s bad loan days ‘are behind us,' says country’s top banking head Abdul Aziz Al-Ghurair

Updated 22 September 2018
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UAE’s bad loan days ‘are behind us,' says country’s top banking head Abdul Aziz Al-Ghurair

  • Many of the UAE’s larger banks have posted substantial increases in profits, a trend most analysts forecast to continue for at least the next year. 
  • Al-Ghurair says the country’s financial institutions are now far more able to weather any deterioration in assets due to the UAE’s more diversified economy.

LONDON: The UAE banking sector is well-positioned for future growth, with the days of “bad loans” dragging down bank balance sheets “behind us,” according to the country’s top banking head Abdul Aziz Al-Ghurair. 
“I think banking in the UAE is in a very good position,” said Al-Ghurair, who is the CEO of Mashreq Bank in Dubai and the chairman of the UAE Banks Federation. 
“Our capital adequacy is at 17 percent so this is pretty high around the world. The cost to income ratio is below 40, which is a really fantastic number so ability to generate profit is high,” he said, speaking to Arab News on the sidelines of a conference in London.
“There will always be bad loans, but it is healthy to have some bad loans, because you really are pushing the envelope. If you have zero bad loans, you are not lending enough and so the economy will also suffer. As long as (it is) affordable that is ok,” he said. 
His comments came as many of the UAE’s larger banks posted substantial increases in profits, a trend most analysts forecast to continue for at least the next year. The four of the largest banks — First Abu Dhabi Bank, Emirates NBD, Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank and Dubai Islamic Bank — posted a combined net profit of 8 billion dirhams ($2.2 billion) in the second quarter of 2018, up 21 percent compared to the same period last year. 
A note from the ratings agency Moody’s Investors Service issued in August said: “We expect core profitability to stablize over the next 12-18 months. We expect profitability for the large UAE banks to remain broadly stable as their interest earnings hold steady at current levels.”
While banks are expected to maintain high levels of profitability, there are signs that non-performing loans are beginning to trouble some institutions, particularly the smaller entities. 
Non-performing loans ratio to gross loans (NPL) reached 6.7 percent at the end of 2017 compared to 6.4 percent the previous year, according to UAE Central Bank statistics. Preliminary data suggests this could edge up to 7 percent for the second quarter of this year. 
“We expected this (increase in NPLs) given the relatively slow growth in 2017, which tends to have a lagging effect on banks’ asset quality,”  said Mik Kabeya, lead analyst for UAE banking system at Moody’s. 
“The weakening asset quality is manageable for banks given their buffers in terms of capital and profitability but we do expect an uptick. It will be primarily driven by soft performance on the retail, SMEs and mid-corporates segments.”
Chiradeep Ghosh, financial institutions analyst at Sico Bank in Bahrain, said it was a mixed picture for non-performing loan volumes. 
“We did not see any clear trend with UAE banks’ asset quality in the second quarter of 2018, with some banks reporting pick-up in delinquencies while others report improvement,” he said. 
Ehsan Khoman, head of Mena research and strategy at the Dubai branch of MUFG Bank, said the banks have remained stable despite signs of looming problem loans. 
“The UAE banking system remains benign owing to a buoyant economic operating environment, notwithstanding the recent pick-up in non-performing loans,” he said in an emailed note. 
Al-Ghurair said the country’s financial institutions are now far more able to weather any deterioration in assets due to the UAE’s more diversified economy.