Focus: Banks in GCC and Europe

Analysis Focus: Banks in GCC and Europe
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Updated 03 July 2020

Focus: Banks in GCC and Europe

Focus: Banks in GCC and Europe

What happened:

Most global stock markets rose through the week amid volatility and the global number of COVID-19 cases passed the 10 million mark.

In America, several southern states had to reverse reopening plans as part of an easing of virus precautionary measures. Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned that a mutation of the coronavirus could pose a threat, because faster replication might hasten its spread.


China’s new security law for Hong Kong came into force on July 1, increasing friction between the Chinese, and the US and Western countries. The issue may have ramifications for trade relations between China, America and beyond.

It marks a new era for Hong Kong, especially as the law supersedes the special administrative region’s Basic Law (constitution) and reneges on the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which stipulated a one country two systems regime for 50 years after the UK’s 1997 handover of the territory to China.

This leaves open the question as to how China will deal with Taiwan going forward and how the US and its allies will react. Taiwan’s economy is critical to the global semiconductor industry.

The development will also have consequences on the status of Hong Kong’s economy. The Asian headquarters of many foreign companies are in Hong Kong. It may also impact on the relative standing of Hong Kong’s stock exchange vis a vis Singapore’s and Shanghai’s.

The June US non-farm payroll numbers were released on Thursday and were better than expected. The economy gained 4.8 million jobs, bringing the June unemployment rate down to 11.1 percent from 13.3 percent in the preceding month.

This was somewhat dampened by the first-time jobless claims which came in at 1.43 million for the week ending June 26. This metric has hovered between 1.4 and 1.5 million per week for the last few weeks – continuously disappointing expectations (the US reports furloughed workers as unemployed, whereas in Europe they are classed as in work).

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) tested Boeing’s 737 Max aircraft for three days this week, which could usher in a return to the skies for the troubled plane.

Boeing is also rumored to be planning to phase out its iconic 747 by 2022. This would mark the end of jumbo jets, as European manufacturer Airbus has already decided to halt production of its A380 wide-bodied equivalent.

With the travel and leisure sectors among the worst-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, airlines cancelled and postponed orders for new aircraft. Boeing has so far announced 14,000 job cuts and counting. Airbus’ redundancy toll stands at 15,000. Experts estimate that for every job lost with the big plane makers, at least three more will have to go in supply chains.


This was an important week for banks: In Saudi Arabia, the proposed $15.6 billion merger between National Commercial Bank (NCB), the Kingdom’s biggest, and Samba Financial Group, the fourth-largest lender, made the headlines.

The combined entity would be by far the biggest lender in Saudi Arabia with SR464 billion, before Al-Rajhi bank with a loan portfolio worth SR269 billion.

Among GCC countries, the combined entity would rank just after Abu Dhabi bank with $213 billion in terms of assets. It would have a market share of 30 percent in the Kingdom. With the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) being the largest shareholder of both entities, the merger would give it more weight in the country’s banking sector.

The merger is complementary because NCB’s focus is on retail customers and Samba’s on a corporate clientele. It also makes sense, because Saudi Arabia’s 30 million people are banked by 30 players, which is high in international comparison. The region tends to be overbanked and further bank mergers in the GCC are likely going forward.

The German parliament gave the Bundesbank the green light to continue supporting the European Central Bank’s (ECB) pandemic emergency purchase program.

The move was important in light of the highest court’s verdict earlier this year, declaring the central bank’s participation in the ECB’s 2015 public sector purchase program as potentially illegal. The ruling will give Eurozone banks a boost.

This brings us to US investment management company Bridgewater’s founder and chief investment officer, Ray Dalio, who told Bloomberg that the biggest drivers behind markets was the spending of central banks and their central governments rather than ordinary market participants.

He highlighted that close to zero or negative interest rates skewed the bank attitudes toward borrowing from the central banks. His most salient point was comparing the COVID-19 pandemic to the financial crisis of 2008/2009. Whereas then banks had to be rescued because they were relevant to the system, now it was economy as a whole which was relevant to the system and needed to be saved.

Dalio has a point, however looking at the latest spending by the world’s major central banks, the US Federal Reserve, the Bank of Japan, and the ECB, the use of swap lines by commercial banks has abated somewhat since the COVID-19 global outbreak.

Where we go from here:

The UK will experience “Super Saturday” on July 4 with pubs, restaurants, and hairdressers reopening. The British government instructed people to observe social-distancing rules and warned that it would close down parts of the country if new outbreaks were reported.

The move is important for the hospitality industry, which has had to let go of 500,000 workers and furloughed a further 1 million.


— Cornelia Meyer is a Ph.D.-level economist with 30 years of experience in investment banking and industry. She is chairperson and CEO of business consultancy Meyer Resources.
Twitter: @MeyerResources