It is a reflection of the higher-than-usual activity in the Saudi market that six of the top 10 regional banks are Saudi-domiciled. While some participated in cross-border transactions, the opportunities offered by the $2,500 million acquisition finance extended to Saudi Basic Industries Corporation, the $2,000 million debt facility for Saudi Aramco and the $650 million refinancing deal for Saudi Petrochemical Company were enough to elevate the likes of Samba, Riyad Bank and National Commercial Bank. Some of the smaller Saudi banks – Banque Saudi Fransi and Saudi British Bank, for example – also benefited from the activities of their joint venture partners and generated healthy deal flow.
Beyond GIB, the two other truly regional financial institutions – ABC and Arab Petroleum Investments Corporation (Apicorp) – also had busy years. ABC underwrote seven deals – second only to GIB – but due to its participation in a number of mid-sized deals slipped to fourth in the rankings from second place last year. The chances are that ABC might slip further next year: its senior management has made clear a reluctance to participate in long tenor deals and a more selective approach to balance sheet deployment is being adopted.
Apicorp had another steady year, completing four transactions and coming seventh in the league table.
Most of the national heavyweights were forced out of the top 10 by the influx of the Saudi banks. However, the likes of Qatar National Bank and National Bank of Abu Dhabi continued to be active in their home markets. And a new force has emerged: National Bank of Dubai. Long regarded as one of the most conservative and risk-adverse banks in the Middle East, it has recently taken an interest in lending. It whetted its appetite in a few syndications before surprising some by joining the lead arrangers on the Qatar Fuel Additives Company deal. Given its strong capitalisation and high liquidity, it could carve an interesting niche for itself in the future.