Qatar National Bank (QNB), the largest lender in the Gulf, posted a 3.3 percent rise in fourth-quarter net profit on Tuesday as faster lending growth and net fee and commission income bolstered its performance.
The pick-up in loan growth followed two successive quarters in which year-on-year lending growth slowed at the bank, which provides a window on the health of the Qatari economy.
Fifty percent owned by Qatar's sovereign wealth fund, QNB's net loans and advances rose 8.8 percent in the year to the end of December 2014 to reach 338 billion riyals ($92.9 billion), a statement showed.
That rate is still well short of the more than 20 percent lending growth QNB posted for five quarters in a row, before it slowed to 10.1 percent in first half of the year and again to 8.1 percent in the nine months to the end of September.
However, the slowdown came at a time when lending growth across the Qatari banking system tailed off significantly due to delays in major infrastructure projects. Credit growth was 6.1 percent in November, its lowest since records started in 2006, according to central bank data.
Lending growth in Qatar has been a significant factor in supporting bank profits in recent years as the state spends billions of dollars on infrastructure and preparations to host the soccer World Cup in 2022.
QNB made a net profit of 2.45 billion riyals for the three months to Dec. 31, up from 2.37 billion riyals in the same period of 2014, Reuters calculated based on financial statements.
That missed average forecasts from four analysts polled by Reuters, who forecast a net profit of 2.57 billion riyals for the quarter.
Also aiding the increase in fourth-quarter profit was income from fees and commissions, which rose 16.5 percent year-on-year to 561.1 million riyals, according to Reuters calculations.
The fourth-quarter results were the first since the bank acquired a 23.5 percent stake in pan-African lender Ecobank in September.
The bank is targeting a profit contribution of about 40 percent from its overseas operations by 2017, the year it wants to be the biggest bank in the Middle East and Africa.
QNB posted a full-year net profit for 2014 of 10.45 billion riyals, up 10.3 percent from 2013, the bank's statement said.
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