Standard Chartered optimistic for region

Standard Chartered Bank is confident about the outlook for the Middle East, despite recent turmoil in the market, says its group chief executive, as the bank pushes ahead with building a new office in Dubai.

Peter Sands was speaking after a ground-breaking ceremony for its new US$140 million (Dh514.2m) head office in Downtown Dubai, close to the offices of competitors such as Barclays and HSBC.

"Some of the political changes in the region loom large," he said. "From an economic and business perspective, I remain confident about the outlook for the region this year."The UK-headquartered bank is the longest-serving international lender in the region and has been based in the UAE for 53 years. In recent years, it has progressively begun to switch its focus to Asia and other fast-growing emerging markets.

Problems of political and social unrest in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia and some other Mena countries have weighed on some emerging economies since the start of the year.

"There's some flight to safety and places like Dubai will gain from a flight to safety," said V Shankar, the chief executive of Europe, Middle East and Americas of Standard Chartered, who is based in Dubai.

"Clearly, there will be some winners. With oil prices where they are, oil producers will gain."

Inflationary pressures in some markets caused by higher commodity prices were another economic risk, said Mr Sands.

"2011 will certainly bring challenges for the Middle East as well as the rest of the world," he said. "But we will remain - as we have for 90 years - open for business, come what may."

The bank's profits more than doubled in the Middle East and south Asia region to $841m last year. In the UAE, its largest Middle East market, income crossed $1 billion, up 6 per cent from 2009.

The offices will be home to the bank for the next 15 years and will accommodate 1,250 employees.