NCB reports 24% jump in Q3 profit on lower provisions and higher commissions

Net impairment charges for expected credit losses dropped 43 per cent to 379m riyals

 Jeddah, Saudi Arabia -- July 19, 2009 -- A National Commercial Bank (NCB) branch. Michael Bou-Nacklie for The National
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National Commercial Bank (NCB), Saudi Arabia's biggest lender by assets, reported a 24 per cent rise in its third quarter net profit as net commission income climbed and operating expenses including impairments for bad loans dropped.

Net profit for the three months ending September 30 rose to 3.16 billion riyals ($843 million), the lender said in a statement to the Tadawul stock exchange, where its shares trade. The profit figure beat analysts' expectations.

Net income from special commissions and financing and investments rose 6 per cent 4.1bn riyals, while net impairment charges for expected credit losses dropped 43 per cent year-on-year to 379m riyals.

Total operating expenses dropped 9.8 per cent, mainly due to lower rent and premises-related expenses, the lender said on Wednesday.

Earlier this month, NCB agreed to merge with its smaller rival Samba Financial Group in a deal that will create the Arab world’s third-biggest banking entity with assets worth $223bn. All Samba assets and liabilities will also be transferred to NCB as part of the deal.

The new lender will have its headquarters in Riyadh, with Ammar Alkhudairy tipped to become chairman and Saeed Al-Ghamdi managing director and group chief executive.

“This merger process marks the start of a new era for Saudi banking,” Mr Alkhudairy, Samba Financial Group's current chairman, said in an October 11 statement.

“We are focused on making sure that the combined and larger bank comes together seamlessly to serve our customers, partners, investors and talent across both teams.”

NCB's nine month profit rose about 1 per cent to 8.08bn riyals. Total operating income increased 4.7 per cent mainly due to the increase in net special commission income, fees from banking services and foreign exchange income and higher investment-related income, the lender said.

Assets at the end of the nine-month period climbed 16 per cent year-on-year to 577bn riyals while investments rose 9 per cent to 144bn riyals. Customer deposits during the period jumped 20 per cent to 408.4bn riyals.

"The earnings beat was largely driven by core drivers, as loan growth was strong, spreads widened and provisioning was lower than expected," analysts from investment bank EFG Hermes said in a note.

The lower provisioning was the main surprise, with the cost of risk more than halving compared to the previous quarter to 45 basis points.

"While it could be driven by provision reversal, the trend highlights management’s growing optimism on credit quality prospects," EFG Hermes said.