Gulf banks must learn the lessons of the crash

14 July 2006
Most big Gulf banks have released first-half financial figures. Despite making provisions 10 times more than in the same period of 2005, Saudi Arabia's The National Commercial Bank (NCB), the Arab world's largest financial institution, reported profits in the first half of 2006 almost 40 per cent above the figure reported in January-June last year. National Bank of Kuwait (NBK), the largest Kuwaiti bank, reported a profit rise of 32 per cent over the same period. Qatar National Bank (QNB) was up 52 per cent year-on-year. Gulf banks have grown robustly and they are among the world's most profitable.
The figures confirm the assertion made by every bank chief executive in the past three months that the Gulf share crash since the start of the year has not had a crippling impact. The Saudi Tadawul All-Share Index fell by 50 per cent between the end of February and the start of June. Among GCC share indexes, only the Muscat Securities Market (MSM) is up so far this year. But the region's banks had limited their exposure to those speculating in shares and took steps to ensure their own investments were properly managed. The half-year figures are their reward.

But the full cost may not yet be fully reflected in the figures. No Gulf bank is in serious jeopardy, but we shall have to wait for full-year audited results to see the final bill.

The Gulf financial system has had a loud wake-up call. The banks rode the rise and fall of the markets and made record profits in part due to brokerage fees. But the events of the past 12 months have exposed deficiencies in the region's capacity to restrain markets when they rise precipitately. Retail investor understanding of the costs as well as of the benefits of buying shares is low. Many who should never dabble in equities are still spotted in Gulf share markets trying to recover through speculation losses they have

They say you can't buck the market. But if the market goes mad, it is only rational for the authorities and responsible investors to do their best to inject a dose of sanity. This is beyond the capacity of a single body and requires a Gulf-wide approach. And it is more than an academic
exercise. With the region's economies continuing to boom, it could all happen again.

Golden Suez moment.

Half a century ago, on 26 July 1956, Egypt's President Nasser delivered a two-and-a-half-hour speech to a crowd in Alexandria's
Mohammad Ali Square. As previously arranged, when Nasser said De Lesseps, the name of the French engineer who designed the Suez Canal, the takeover of the waterway began. He finished the speech with the declaration that it was in Egyptian hands.

July 1956 is the start of the modern Middle East era. The Israeli invasion of Sinai in October, which was secretly agreed with France and the UK to disguise an attempt to recover the canal, prompted the first Arab oil embargo. The US demanded the withdrawal of British and French forces and became the dominant power in the Middle East.

Nasser's Alexandria speech set the scene for the rise of Arab republican regimes. The Tunisian monarchy was deposed in July the following year and Iraq's Hashemites in July 1958. The Algerian republic was declared in July 1962 and the Yemeni Imamate was replaced in September the same year. In Libya, King Idris fell in September 1971.

Fifty years is a long time in the Middle East. But 26 July 1956 is a day worth remembering.

Fantastic FIFA.

Even if you are not an Italy fan, or even a football follower, you will probably have enjoyed FIFA's successful four-week 2006 World Cup finals in Germany. My tip England was red-carded out of the event. Germany, my forecast to come second, fell at the semi-final hurdle. But there is always South Africa in 2010.

They are still counting the numbers, but the 2006 competition made more money than any sporting event in human history. FIFA is now a multi-bi

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