Photographer: Adam Berry/Bloomberg

Facing Slower Growth, U.A.E. Bank Deals May Just Be Starting

  • Middle East banks facing declining asset quality, slow growth
  • About 50 banks are serving country of 9 million people

A potential merger between two of Abu Dhabi’s biggest banks may just be the start of consolidation in the industry.

That’s according to analysts from EFG-Hermes Holding SAE and Emirates NBD PJSC, which say the United Arab Emirates needs more tie-ups because too many banks are serving a relatively small population of 9 million and growth prospects are limited. About 50 local and international lenders face declining government spending, slowing economies and falling asset quality after a slump in oil, the region’s principal export.

In what would be the country’s first major banking merger in almost a decade, National Bank of Abu Dhabi PJSC and First Gulf Bank PJSC said on Sunday that they’re in talks on a potential deal. Senior executives from the two banks are reviewing the commercial, structural and legal aspects of a possible combination, according to a statement. The banks confirmed a Bloomberg News story on June 16 that said they were in talks.

“This merger could pave the way for more consolidation in the sector – Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, Union National Bank and Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank,” EFG-Hermes Holding SAE analyst Shabbir Malik said in a note Sunday. “The U.A.E.’s banking space is quite crowded, credit penetration is high at about 100 percent of gross domestic product, while the credit and macro growth outlook is soft.”

Team Up

Arqaam Capital, in a note to investors on Monday, also said that Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank and Union National Bank could team up in the future, since both are controlled by Abu Dhabi Investment Council.

A combination of NBAD and FGB would mark the country’s first major banking merger since National Bank of Dubai and Emirates Bank International combined to create Emirates NBD in 2007. The Dubai bank’s Chief Executive Officer Shayne Nelson has called for further consolidation, saying too many banks are serving a relatively small population.

Abu Dhabi’s NBAD, FGB in Talks to Form Top Middle East Bank

Bank liquidity in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, which also includes Saudi Arabia, is tightening as the oil slump slows deposit growth and pushes governments to boost borrowing. GCC governments may rack up a combined budget deficit of about $140 billion this year if crude prices remain in the mid-$40s, according to Emirates NBD estimates.

Rate Climbs

In the U.A.E., banks’ loans-to-deposit ratio worsened to 101.1 percent in April from 98.6 percent a year earlier, according to central bank data. The three-month interbank interest rate earlier this month climbed to the highest in more than three years.

"The current tightening liquidity in the banking sector due to lower oil price revenues has heightened the possibility of consolidation, particularly as the industry is seen to be too fragmented at present," said Anita Yadav, head of fixed-income research at Emirates NBD.

Shares of NBAD rose by the daily limit of 15 percent, the most in more than two years, to 9.2 dirhams on Sunday and FGB advanced 11 percent to 13.1 dirhams. Both banks reported a decline in first-quarter net income.

“Consolidation would be positive for U.A.E. banks from a return generation perspective,” said Goldman Sachs Group Inc. analyst Waleed Mohsin. “This is especially true given the fragmented nature of the market and the current challenging macro environment.”

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