Qatar National Bank on Wednesday reported a 7.1 percent rise in first-quarter net profit, beating analysts' forecasts as the largest bank in the Gulf Arab region continued growing strongly despite the impact of lower oil prices.
The bank, half owned by Qatar's sovereign wealth fund, said net profit was 2.9 billion riyals ($796.5 million) in the three months to Mar. 31. Analysts at EFG Hermes and SICO Bahrain had expected a profit of 2.77 billion and 2.71 billion riyals, respectively.
Low oil prices have taken their toll on some of the Gulf region's banks, complicating plans to raise capital to meet demands of regulators, as well as squeezing available liquidity to lend to local economies.
QNB's loan growth though, at 16.4 percent year on year to 402 billion riyals, remained strong. Government spending on infrastructure and projects linked to the 2022 soccer World Cup has been a major source of credit growth in the country.
"We see the results in a positive light due to stable loan growth and significant decline in provisions; however, continued pressure on net interest margins and the health of its associates remain a concern," Naveed Ahmed at Global Investment House, said. He calculated that QNB's provisioning for bad debts declined 75.8 percent year on year.
QNB has ambitions to become the largest bank in the Middle East and Africa by 2017. It has now achieved that target, according to Thomson Reuters data, overtaking at the end of last year the previous largest lender by assets, South Africa's Standard Bank.
The achievement was aided by the significant depreciation in the value of the South African Rand in the second half of 2015.
QNB has grown partly via acquisitions, including a deal in December to buy Turkey's Finansbank from National Bank of Greece for 2.7 billion euros. It also bought Societe Generale's Egyptian business for $2 billion in 2013, and took a 23.5 percent stake in pan-African lender Ecobank International a year later.
QNB's loan growth pushed net interest income 4.3 percent higher to 3.3 billion riyals, helping to offset small declines in income from fees and commissions and foreign exchange.
The bank's asset base rose 9.7 percent to 550 billion riyals despite the impact of the devaluation of Egypt's currency last month.
The move by the north African country to reduce the Egyptian pound's value by 14.5 percent to help to alleviate a currency crisis, effectively wiped out 7 billion riyals of QNB's assets and 5 billion riyals of its deposits, the bank said.
Deposits stood at 403 billion riyals on Mar. 31, up 10.1 percent year on year.
Finansbank is likely be incorporated into the bank's financial results in the second quarter, QNB said.For all the latest banking and finance news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
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