Saudi Arabia’s listed banks on aggregate reported a 9 per cent year-on-year increase in net profits in 2017, an improvement on a 5 per cent decline the previous year, due to lower interest expenses and prompting expectations of a credit-positive recovery in 2018, a Moody’s report said.
“The results are credit positive for Saudi banks because their improvement occurred amid subdued economic activity, which negatively affected credit demand and banks’ revenue,” the report said. Moody’s estimates that the kingdom's real GDP contracted 0.7 per cent in 2017, while lending contracted by 1 per cent.
On Sunday, Banque Saudi Fransi was the final domestic bank in Saudi Arabia to submit preliminary 2017 financial results to the Saudi stock exchange. Moody’s examined the results of all Tadawul-listed Saudi banks, including National Commercial Bank, Al Rajhi Bank, Samba Financial Group, Saudi British Bank, Riyad Bank, Arab National Bank, Alawwal Bank, Saudi Investment Bank, Bank AlBilad, Bank AlJazira and Alinma Bank.
Improvements in aggregated profits last year were mainly due to lower interest expenses, according to the rating agency’s report.
Saudi banks’ interest expenses declined 12 per cent last year, reflecting an improvement in domestic funding conditions after a significant tightening in 2016 because of falling oil prices. Meanwhile, the average cost of funds fell to 0.9 per cent in 2017, after doubling to 1 per cent in 2016.
“With limited growth opportunities, Saudi banks’ financing needs moderated, and banks were able to unwind more expensive funding sources such as time deposits, which declined 5 per cent year on year in 2017, and wholesale funds, which declined 9 per cent year on year,” the report said.
Lower funding costs in 2018 in turn supported a 9 per cent year-on-year increase in net interest income, and mitigated slower growth in interest income of 4 per cent, compared to 22 per cent in 2016.
However, this was partially offset by a 7 per cent reduction in non-interest income for the second consecutive year, leading to 4 per cent growth in operating income due to factors such as “reduced fee-based business for banks such as trade finance activities, foreign exchange transactions and lower demand for personal loans and credit cards,” Moody’s said.
Saudi banks’ non-interest income shrank to 26 per cent of total operating income in 2017 from 33 per cent in 2015, it added.
Banks also slightly improved their reported cost-to-income ratio to 36 per cent in 2017 from 37 per cent in 2016, reflecting flat year-on-year expenses versus a 6 per cent increase in 2016.