IMF claims banks may need Dh9bn cash boost

Banks across the UAE could be forced to raise as much as US$9.8 billion of new capital to cope with the fallout from the Dubai World debt restructuring.

Banks across the UAE could be forced to raise as much as US$9.8 billion (Dh35.99bn) of new capital to cope with the fallout from the Dubai World debt restructuring and a growing tide of loan defaults, the IMF says. If Dubai World decided to offer its creditors only 50 cents on the dollar, the UAE Government and other shareholders might be forced to inject as much as $9.8bn into a total of 10 banks, the IMF said. There was no indication that Dubai World would propose such a haircut to creditors, however.

The IMF is not the first institution to suggest that the UAE's banks might need Government support. Not everyone agrees with the IMF's view, however. Sultan al Suwaidi, the Governor of the Central Bank, said early last month there was no need to inject additional funds because banks were sufficiently capitalised. Some analysts in the UAE and at Moody's Investors Service, the ratings agency, agree with Mr al Suwaidi.

The chief differences between those who believe the banks need more money and those who do not stem from the range of views in the market on capital adequacy ratios, or the amount of cash a bank needs to hold in relation to its loans. Capital adequacy ratio indicates an institution's financial strength, or its ability to absorb financial shocks. It is considered a useful guide in showing whether a bank can sustain further hits to its balance sheet or needs to increase its capital base.

The IMF says banks may need even higher capital levels - up to 14 per cent - to buffer them against losses on loans to Dubai World and other borrowers. Others stick with the 11 per cent current legal minimum in the UAE. Opinions also vary on the exact exposure of UAE banks to the $26bn of debt that Dubai World is attempting to restructure, how much of that will in fact be restructured, how much other government-related groups such as Dubai Holding owe the banks and how far the property market will fall.

"The discrepancies arise from different assumptions," said John Tofarides, an analyst at Moody's in Dubai. He argues that none of the 13 UAE banks that Moody's rates requires additional capital to remain above the current minimum 7 per cent Tier 1 ratio. This would hold true even if banks had to write off 40 per cent on their Dubai World exposures, he said. "Others may not confine their assumed loan losses to Dubai World," Mr Tofarides said.

The ratings agency warned, however, that debt at other government-related entities could pose trouble. Local banks are widely estimated to account for 45 per cent, or about $10bn, of the $26bn of debt that Dubai World is seeking to restructure. But some, including Moody's, estimate the local banks could account for as much $15bn. Other government-related entities, such as Dubai Holding, also have tens of billions of dirhams of debt.

"Dubai banks are exposed to other government-related issuers that may come under stress. Similar haircuts to other Dubai Government-owned businesses, and possibly the private sector as well, could have serious repercussions," Mr Tofarides warned in a research note. He added that large loan losses would hurt profits for this year and that a haircut "could harm the ability of banks (especially Dubai-based banks) to tap the capital markets in a cost-effective manner without federal guarantees".

UAE banks reported some of their largest-ever quarterly losses in the October-to-December period, and they more than doubled annual provisions for bad loans after sharp falls in property prices and the financial troubles of two Saudi conglomerates hurt the asset quality of their books. In autumn, the Central Bank told banks to increase their capital adequacy ratio to 8 per cent for Tier 1 capital and to 12 per cent for overall capital by June of this year. However, the Ministry of Finance has warned banks it will conduct stress tests if their Tier 1 capital falls below 11 per cent. It could require them to convert Tier 2 capital deposited by the Ministry of Finance into Tier 1 capital securities.

Tier 1 capital can absorb losses without a bank being required to cease trading, while Tier 2 can absorb losses in case of a winding up and so provides a lesser degree of protection to depositors. UAE banks have high overall capital ratios by international standards. By contrast, the Basel Accord recommends that banks be required to set aside 8 per cent of their risk-weighted assets, with Tier 1 contributing half of that.