By Suleiman Al-Khalidi
Overall healthy returns and expanding project finance business in Arab Gulf boost earnings.
Jordan-based Arab Bank Group said on Sunday its 2007 net profits rose 24% to $775 million with overall healthy returns and an expanding project finance business in the Arab Gulf.
A bank statement said 2007 pretax profits of the Arab Bank Group, one of the Middle East's major financial institutions and which includes Arab Bank Switzerland based in Zurich, rose to $1 billion.
"These positive results show the ability of the bank to expand its operations geographically and introduce new products... this has reflected itself in the balance sheet," chairman and CEO Abdel Hamid Shoman said in a statement.
The bank's geographic diversification - 70% of the bank's assets, funding, capital and revenues lies outside Jordan in 26 different countries - has helped it weather regional turmoil.
Shoman said the bank's expanding syndicated project financing business in the Arab Gulf boosted the credit facilities (loans) portfolio to $19.5 billion, up 43.6% from the end of 2006.
Arab Bank's project related finance and trade operations in the oil-rich region has also picked up, with the bank last year participating more aggressively in large syndicated loans for major corporations.
Arab Bank Group's total assets stood at $38.3 billion at the end of December 2007, up 18% from the previous year.
The chairman said a growing customer base helped push deposits in 2007 to $24.7 billion, 13.6% up from the previous year.
Total shareholders' equity rose to $6.9 billion, up 16.5% from the previous year.
The firm is one of the Arab world's largest privately owned banks, with nearly 20% owned by the family of Lebanon's former prime minister, Rafik Al-Hariri, and a similar stake by Jordan's social pension fund. The rest is owned by mainly long-term investors.
Arab Bank owns 40% of Saudi Arabia's Arab National Bank (ANB). (Reuters)