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

Abdul Aziz Al-Ghurair predicts a sunny future for the UAE banking system, saying "banking in the UAE is in a very good position." (Reuters)
Updated 23 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.


Foreign investors hope India dials back policy shocks after Modi win

Updated 24 May 2019
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Foreign investors hope India dials back policy shocks after Modi win

  • Modi’s pro-business image and India’s youthful population have lured foreign investors
  • After Modi’s win, about a dozen officials of foreign companies in India and their advisers said they hoped he would ease his stance and dilute some of the policies

NEW DELHI: Foreign companies in India have welcomed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s election victory for the political stability it brings, but now they need to see him soften a protectionist stance adopted in the past year.
Modi’s pro-business image and India’s youthful population have lured foreign investors, with US firms such as Amazon.com , Walmart and Mastercard committing billions of dollars in investments and ramping up hiring.
India is also the biggest market by users for firms such as Facebook Inc, and its subsidiary, WhatsApp.
But from around 2017, critics say, the Hindu nationalist leader took a harder, protectionist line on sectors such as e-commerce and technology, crafting some policies that appeared to aim at whipping up patriotic fervor ahead of elections.

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“I hope he’s now back to wooing businesses,” said Prasanto Roy, a technology policy analyst based in New Delhi, who advises global tech firms.
“Global firms remain deeply concerned about the lack of policy stability or predictability, this has sent a worrying message to global investors.”
India stuck to its policies despite protests and aggressive lobbying by the United States government, US-India trade bodies and companies themselves.
Small hurdles
Modi was set to hold talks on Friday to form a new cabinet after election panel data showed his Bharatiya Janata Party had won 302 of the 542 seats at stake and was leading in one more, up from the 282 it won in 2014.
After Modi’s win, about a dozen officials of foreign companies in India and their advisers told Reuters they hoped he would ease his stance and dilute some of the policies.
Other investors hope the government will avoid sudden policy changes on investment and regulation that catch them off guard and prove very costly, urging instead industry-wide consultation that permits time to prepare.
Protectionism concerns “are small hurdles you have to go through,” however, said Prem Watsa, the chairman of Canadian diversified investment firm Fairfax Financial, which has investments of $5 billion in India.
“There will be more business-friendly policies and more private enterprise coming into India,” he told Reuters in an interview.
Tech, healthcare and beyond
Among the firms looking for more friendly steps are global payments companies that had benefited since 2016 from Modi’s push for electronic payments instead of cash.
Last year, however, firms such as Mastercard and Visa were asked to store more of their data in India, to allow “unfettered supervisory access,” a change that prompted WhatsApp to delay plans for a payments service.
Modi’s government has also drafted a law to clamp similar stringent data norms on the entire sector.
But abrupt changes to rules on foreign investment in e-commerce stoked alarm at firms such as Amazon, which saw India operations disrupted briefly in February, and Walmart, just months after it invested $16 billion in India’s Flipkart.
Policy changes also hurt foreign players in the $5-billion medical device industry, such as Abbott Laboratories, Boston Scientific and Johnson & Johnson, following 2017 price caps on products such as heart stents and knee implants.
Modi’s government said the move aimed to help poor patients and curb profiteering, but the US government and lobby groups said it harmed innovation, profits and investment plans.
“If foreign companies see their future in this country on a long-term basis...they will have to look at the interests of the people,” Ashwani MaHajjan, an official of a nationalist group that pushed for some of the measures, told Reuters.
That view was echoed this week by two policymakers who said government policies will focus on strengthening India’s own companies, while providing foreign players with adequate opportunities for growth.
Such comments worry foreign executives who fear Modi is not about to change his protectionist stance in a hurry, with one offical of a US tech firm saying, “I’d rather be more worried than be optimistic.”