Of the eight banks to have published figures, the stand-out numbers came from SABB, which managed to increase profits year on year by 116.2 per cent and expand assets by 11.8 per cent over the first quarter.

The National Commercial Bank (NCB), the sector’s giant, grew first-quarter profits by 52.2 per cent to close at SR 2,000 million ($545 million).

Announcing their results, NCB and SABB attributed the increased earnings partly to booming revenues from stock market activities. Whether recent reversals will begin to affect asset quality remains to be seen.

Rising fee and commission income is generally driving profits growth, according to a report published by NCB in early April. Collating 2005 income streams from the 10 reporting banks, the study found that income from fees and services doubled during 2005 to SR 11,800 million ($3,215 million), outstripping special commission income for the first time in the industry’s history.