Chief Who Built Biggest Arab Bank Takes Over Qatar Finances

For Ali Shareef Al Emadi, managing the finances of the world’s richest country is a job he’s already been involved in for eight years.

During that time, the chief executive officer of Qatar National Bank SAQ, who was appointed finance minister in a new Qatari government late yesterday, helped build the company into the Middle East’s biggest lender. QNB grew its assets to more than $100 billion in the period, the only Arab bank to reach that threshold, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

“Qatar National Bank closed some of the key acquisitions outside Qatar and grew significantly in size under the leadership of Ali Shareef Al Emadi,” Amol Shitole, a credit analyst with SJS in Bangalore, India, said by e-mail today. “The bank has a clear strategy in place to expand internationally by carefully selecting markets.”

The Doha-based bank mirrored the expansion of the energy-rich Gulf nation as it developed into a regional power and worldwide investor. The emirate bought stakes in Barclays Plc, the U.K.’s second-biggest bank, and Volkswagen AG, Europe’s largest carmaker. It supported uprisings in Syria and Libya and lent $8 billion to Egypt’s post-Hosni Mubarak government.

QNB’s growth was fueled by expansion into 25 countries in the Middle East, Asia and Europe. The bank’s shares jumped 1.9 percent to 159 riyals today, the highest on record.

Qatari Champion

“QNB has benefited significantly as the national champion for Qatar,” Giyas Gokkent, chief economist at the National Bank of Abu Dhabi PJSC, the U.A.E.’s biggest bank, said in an e-mail. “I would not expect a change in direction. They are clearly committed to rapid international expansion and will remain a core enabler for the Qatari diversification drive.”

Al Emadi replaces QNB’s Chairman Yousef Kamal as finance minister. His appointment was part of the biggest leadership shake-up in Qatar in 18 years after the emirate’s ruler, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, handed over power to his son Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. The new emir formed a government headed by Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani as prime minister.

Al Emadi will take over the finances of a country whose natural-gas exports gave it the largest per capita gross domestic product in the world, according to the International Monetary Fund. Qatar plans to spend $200 billion on infrastructure before hosting the 2022 soccer World Cup, the most-watched sporting event.

A finance graduate from the University of Arizona, Al Emadi said his bank, ranked the world’s strongest this year by Bloomberg Markets magazine, benefited from adversity. As economic turmoil engulfed other lenders, Qatar National Bank looked to expand, he said.

Iraq, Libya

During 2012, the bank purchased stakes in Iraqi and Libyan lenders. In March 2013, it bought the Egyptian unit of France’s Societe Generale SA for $2.45 billion. In April 2012, it sought to acquire Turkey’s Denizbank AS, eventually losing out to Moscow-based OAO Sberbank. In 2011, QNB acquired a controlling stake in Indonesia’s PT Bank Kesawan.

While the bank benefited from the government’s purchase of its real estate investments after the onslaught of the financial crisis in 2008, it didn’t need to receive government money.

“We always see good liquidity coming to us when things get bad in the market,” Al Emadi said in a March interview at the QNB’s headquarters. “That’s a very strong signal from customers and investors that they view the bank as a safe haven.”

Qatar Growth

Fifty-percent government-owned, QNB grew on the back of Qatar’s own economic expansion, which averaged 13 percent annually in the five years ended 2012. The growth was driven by rising exports of liquefied natural gas, with Qatar the source of about 30 percent of the world’s supply.

Qatar National Bank didn’t immediately respond to an e-mail today seeking comment on Al Emadi’s successor, nor whether Kamal will remain as chairman.

Al Emadi has worked for QNB since 2001, according to his resume. Prior to that, he served in the banking control department of Qatar Central Bank.

“It is always a blow when a long-standing CEO departs, particularly after a period of tremendous growth,” Emad Mostaque, a London-based strategist at Noah Capital Markets EMEA Ltd., said by e-mail. “QNB has strong ties to the government across the board and remains a national champion and will receive considerable government backing.”

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