Qatar Bank CEO Says Liquidity Is a ‘Bigger Issue’ Than in 2008

Interview With Doha Bank Ltd Chief Executive Officer Raghavan Seetharaman

Raghavan Seetharaman.

Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
  • Doha Bank ready to raise debt following shareholder approval
  • CEO says willing to participate in government’s bond sale

The shortage of liquidity in Qatar is more serious than during the financial crisis, forcing the country’s lenders to adapt their businesses to the low oil-price environment, according to Doha Bank QSC Chief Executive Officer Raghavan Seetharaman.

“Liquidity is a much bigger issue today than it was in 2008,” he said in a TV interview with Bloomberg Markets Middle East on Tuesday. “All of the Gulf countries were running a fiscal surplus and current account surplus in 2008, today they’re running a fiscal and current account deficit. Every institution, including Doha Bank, has to redefine its business model."

Raghavan Seetharaman
Raghavan Seetharaman
Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Bank liquidity in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, which includes Qatar and Saudi Arabia, is tightening as a more than 50 percent slump in crude since mid-2014 slows deposit growth and pushes the government to boost borrowing. The drop in oil is also forcing some companies in the country, including Qatar Petroleum and Vodafone Qatar QSC, to restructure operations and cut jobs.

Lenders in Qatar are experiencing "extraordinary stress," the CEO said in a separate interview at the bank’s headquarters in Doha last week. “It’s a challenging time. Liquidity is under stress and governments are having to borrow money externally to improve local market liquidity. Oil and gas companies have scaled down because their revenue streams have been shrinking, which has definitely impacted local consumer retail."

Liquidity Measure

Qatar banks’ loans-to-deposit ratio, a key measure of liquidity, worsened to 130 percent in April from 125.7 percent in March, according to central bank data. Lenders in the country are also facing a narrowing in net interest margins and higher interest expenses, Seetharaman said.

Despite the challenges, Seetharaman said Qatar’s banking system is stable and lenders have strong capital-adequacy ratios, helping them to avoid the crisis experienced in 2009 when the government had to step in to rescue the industry. Doha Bank is targeting a reduction in non-performing loans to less than 3 percent in the “next few quarters” from 3.48 percent currently, he said.

Amid tight liquidity, the bank is also planning to expand its foreign operations to compensate for slower growth in Qatar, Seetharaman said.

“We have scope for expansion,” he said. "The Indian economy is doing well, and we just opened in Bangladesh,” he said, adding that there are opportunities to convert some representative offices in Asia into full-scale branches. It’s not like everything is gloom and doom."

Profit Decline

Doha Bank’s net income declined 16 percent to 354 million Qatari riyals ($97.2 million) in the first quarter. The company’s total capital ratio dropped to 15.56 percent at the end of March, from 15.79 percent at the end of December, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The company’s shares have declined 20 percent this year, the worst-performing bank on the 20-member Qatar Exchange Index, which is down 7.2 percent.

The lender, which last year raised $500 million on international debt markets and has shareholder approval for another $500 million, is busy with a “due diligence now and we’ll go to the market at the right time,” the CEO said. It will be a combination of commercial paper and an existing Euro Medium Term Note, he said. “We might go for senior debt at a later stage.”

Qatar could raise as much as $5 billion in bonds to plug its budget deficit, which could reach 46.5 billion riyals this year, according to people familiar with the matter. Doha Bank plans to subscribe to the bond, but may need to borrow in the short term to finance the deal, Seetharaman said.

“That’s where we do some bilateral borrowing here and there," he said. "We can always borrow and have a margin. I’m taking efforts to borrow from certain markets. Japanese banks are keen to be here and lend to us." 

S&P Global Ratings revised its outlook on Doha Bank to negative from stable on May 3 because it expects a further deterioration in the lender’s asset quality, with Qatar’s economic growth expected to average 4 percent between 2016 and 2019, from 5.5 percent over the past four years. Bad loans as a proportion of total credit granted may rise to 3.65 percent, QNB Financial Services said in an April 19 report.

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