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Sat 19 Nov 2011 11:09 AM

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GCC issuers facing 'challenging debt cycle', says S&P

Rating agency sees rising refinancing risks to 2014 amid increase in maturing debt

GCC issuers facing 'challenging debt cycle', says S&P

Issuers in Gulf countries face rising refinancing risks over the next three years amid a significant increase in maturing debt to 2014, Standard & Poor's has said in a new report.

The rating agency said experts estimate bonds and sukuk worth about $25bn will mature in 2012, rising to about $35bn in 2014.

S&P said it believes the region is "therefore entering a challenging loan and bond refinancing cycle".

It added that the situation could be made worse given "the ongoing volatility in capital markets and fears that slowing global economic growth is already curbing corporate debt issuance and heightening refinancing risk in the region".

It said its expectations for credit quality for Gulf sovereigns were boosted by continuing high oil prices and increases in hydrocarbon production, which will bolster government finances and external accounts.

"We expect that economic activity in 2011 will record its highest growth rate since the onset of the global financial crisis, supported by accelerated government spending and large-scale infrastructure investment," its report said.

Among Gulf corporates, S&P said several companies had delayed issuances, which, it believed, could "accentuate refinancing risks for these players".

Of all the Gulf corporates that S&P rates, only one (International Petroleum Investment Company) has tapped the capital markets over the past six months.

"Although we believe that financing needs remain sizable, particularly in the power and water sectors, issuers that could afford to wait have generally held back from tapping capital and bank markets, perhaps hoping for better pricing conditions at a later date," S&P said.

For Gulf banks, S&P said it did not expect any meaningful changes in either the overall lending appetite or lending pricing. 

Earlier this month, its Banking Industry Country Risk Assessments (BICRAs), classified Bahrain's banking system in Group 6, which is the highest risk among the GCC countries, ahead of the UAE (Group 5), Oman, Qatar, and Kuwait (Group 4) and Saudi Arabia (Group 2).

In the UAE, S&P said it expects to see continued deleveraging or a very limited growth scenario for the major Dubai banks in 2012.

"Credit growth for the sector will be generated largely by the Abu Dhabi banks, in our view... However, the banks now carry substantial amounts of restructured loans on their balance sheets and the performance of these will be an important factor in their future asset quality as well as their exposures to certain GRE names," the rating agency added.

It said credit growth will be very limited for Bahrain's banks in 2012, while certain Kuwaiti banks were beginning to see early signs of stabilisation of their asset quality.

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