This resilience is in large part the result of good regulation, with strict limits on bank loan-to-deposit ratios, which has kept the sector more liquid than other GCC markets throughout the crisis.
But 2010 is unlikely to bring about the strong rebound that many have been hoping for. First quarter profits have been dented by $612m-worth of provisions against bad debt. And while provisioning may have peaked, risk aversion is now holding back growth.
The Saudi economy is buzzing with activity fuelled by state spending, and although banks have the capacity to lend, it is only to entities and projects with minimal risk attached. The $20bn of loan repayment defaults last year by two of the kingdom’s biggest conglomerates has resulted in greater scrutiny of borrowers, while ongoing concerns over the global economy still weigh on sentiment. But unless such risk aversion ends, banks will struggle to make 2010 a more profitable year than 2009.