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Mon 24 Dec 2018 04:58 PM

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Saudi Arabia eyes deal to create $182bn mega bank

National Commercial Bank, Saudi Arabia's biggest lender, says it has started initial talks with Riyad Bank for a merger

Saudi Arabia eyes deal to create $182bn mega bank
The kingdom’s main sovereign wealth fund, which owns stakes in some of the biggest lenders, is weighing which banks could be merged, according to sources.

National Commercial Bank, Saudi Arabia’s biggest lender, said on Monday that it has started initial talks with Riyad Bank for a merger, a deal that would create an entity with $182 billion in assets.

Talks may not result in a deal, the bank said in a statement. NCB said it has coordinated the move with the central bank. A deal isn’t expected to result in forced dismissal of staff.

The Public Investment Fund, Saudi Arabia’s main sovereign wealth fund, owns about 44 percent of National Commercial Bank and 22 percent of Riyad Bank, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

An agreement could create the third-biggest lender by assets in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, according to data by Bloomberg.

Earlier, sources said Saudi Arabia is exploring potential mergers to boost its financial services industry after the combination of Saudi British Bank and Alawwal Bank.

Slower economic growth, driven mainly by the drop in oil prices, and a decline in asset quality are prompting policy makers and some banks in the world’s biggest crude exporter to explore merger opportunities. More than 10 banks elsewhere in other Gulf Cooperation Council countries are also considering tie-ups.

HSBC Holdings' unit is buying a local rival part-owned by Royal Bank of Scotland Group in a $5 billion deal - the kingdom’s first bank merger for almost 20 years. Any future deal would have to wait until this transaction is completed in the first half of 2019, the people said.

There are fewer than 30 local and international lenders in Saudi Arabia, serving more than 30 million people. The central bank, responding to Bloomberg questions, said it hasn’t received any formal merger request.

The Public Investment Fund, the sovereign fund chaired by the kingdom’s powerful crown prince, is focused on potential deals among its portfolio banks, the people said.

In a statement, the wealth fund said that while “any strategic decision would be taken by a portfolio company, as an active investor and impactful shareholder, PIF is committed to advising and helping portfolio companies drive performance by identifying opportunities for long-term value creation.”

“This is in line with our stated mission to actively invest over the long-term, maximize sustainable returns and enable the economic development and diversification of the Saudi economy,” it said.

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