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Wed 24 Aug 2011 12:11 PM

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Chinese bank ICBC sets its sights on Gulf growth

World’s largest lender sees profits double in MidEast, plans to expand across Gulf

Chinese bank ICBC sets its sights on Gulf growth
The state-owned lender recorded first-half profits of $14m in its Middle East operations

The world’s biggest lender has unveiled plans to build a retail
banking presence in the UAE and expand its operations across the Middle East.

China’s ICBC said Tuesday it had seen a 116 surge in first-half
profits in its Middle East operations and was seeking to grow its business in
key Gulf states.

“The bank has plans
to develop a retail banking business in the UAE… and also intends to expand
further in the Middle East, prioritising the growth of its business in Qatar
and expansion into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait,” ICBC said in a

The state-owned lender recorded first-half profits of $14m
in its Middle East operations, a year-on-year increase of $8m or 116 percent.
Operating revenue rose to $19m, an increase of 80 percent on the year-earlier

Deposits increased 110 percent in the first six months of
2011, the bank said.

ICBC, the world’s most profitable lender, said it had
largely escaped the impact of the Arab Spring unrest. The bank launched Middle
East operations in 2008 and has branches in Abu Dhabi and Doha, and a subsidiary
in Dubai.

“Despite the political turbulence in the Middle East and
North Africa we maintained significant growth across all areas of our business,”
said Tian Zhiping, CEO of ICBC Middle East.

“We remain committed to pursuing our growth strategy for the
region by increasing the scale of our existing business.”

China fast-growing economy has become an increasingly
important trade partner for the UAE. Dubai, the Gulf’s trade and tourism hub,
has seen a rise in Chinese investors in its real estate market, analysts said.

 “There is definitely
[investment] coming back into the residential at the high-end, but to be honest
there is a lot of interest from Chinese investors,” said Matthew Green, head of
research at real estate agency CB Richard Ellis Middle East. “The number of
transactions is still down, but there has been a pickup in overall value, which
is a positive sign.”

Chinese traders are also utilising Dubai as a springboard to
the lucrative African markets, Nasser Saidi, chief economist of the Dubai
International Financial Centre (DIFC) said this week.

In the first quarter of the year, China exported AED10.68bn
worth of goods to Dubai and was the emirate’s second biggest export partner.

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