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Interview: NCB eyes more acquisitions

Riyadh, July 18, 2007

Saudi Arabia's National Commercial Bank, the Gulf's largest lender by assets, plans to buy into more banks in the Middle East and North Africa after making its first foreign acquisition in Turkey.

The $1.08 billion purchase of a 60 percent stake of Islamic lender Turkiye Finans would give National Commercial exposure to an economy that does not rely on energy exports, the Saudi bank's chief executive, Abdulkareem Abu Alnasr, told Reuters.

National Commercial, like Turkiye Finans, complies with Islam's ban on lending on interest and is set to be eclipsed as the largest bank in the world's top exporting region by Emirates NBD, which Dubai is creating by combining two of its banks.

"This is actually a step in executing the expansion strategy we started 18 months ago when we set our goal to become the premier financial service institution in the region," Alnasr said in a telephone interview.

Other Gulf Arab banks are looking for acquisitions to gain the scale needed to meet demand for credit, spurred by economic growth and government investment of windfall revenue in infrastructure projects.

"We are looking predominantly at the Middle East/North Africa region, Turkey being part of that, in our vision," Abu Alnasr said.

"Turkey's economy is not reliant on oil, so it's not correlated to our economy," he said, while banking reforms and a population of 74 million also drew National Commercial to the country.

A large market was one factor that would determine National Commercial's next target, Abu Alnasr said.

National Commercial was among banks that expressed interest in National Bank for Development in Egypt, the most populous Arab country, the Cairo stock exchange said in April.

"It's preferable for us to take majority stakes, but each deal has its characteristics," Alnasr said.

National Commercial chose Turkiye Finans because it was operating as an Islamic bank, referred to in secular Turkey as participation banks, Abu Alnasr said.

"It's a niche market for the moment, but it will grow faster than conventional banking," he added, predicting Islamic lenders would double their share of the Turkish banking market to 6 percent in three to five years.

Islamic banks are growing fast in Turkey, which has applied for European Union membership. Total assets at the four Turkish banks operating under Islamic law grew 38 percent last year and net profit rose 56 percent, according to data from the Participation Banks Association. - Reuters   




Tags: banking | Saudi | NCB | National Commercial |

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