BEIRUT: Net profits at Lebanon’s Bank Audi rose 21.4 pct to $161.4 million in the first half of the year, the company said on Wednesday, boosted by positive economic conditions in the countries where it operates, including Lebanon, Egypt, Syria and Jordan.
The bank’s 2009 H1 net profit was $132.9 million. Its deposits rose by $798 million in the first half of the year to $23.8 billion, as it captured close to 19 percent of the total deposit growth in the Middle East and North Africa region, Chief Financial Officer Freddie Baz told Reuters.
Growth in Lebanese banking sector deposits is seen as vital in helping the state meet borrowing needs to finance a public debt equivalent to nearly 148 percent of gross domestic product.
Loans to customers grew by $1 billion, Baz said.
Inflows, mainly from expatriates and Gulf Arab nationals were almost flat at $6.6 billion. The figure was boosted last year by the global financial crisis which prompted many Lebanese living overseas to move their money to Lebanon’s banks, seen as relatively safe option in times of turbulence.
Baz said the bank was targeting the Arab world’s three biggest markets — Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Algeria, which he said together represent close to 50 percent of the Arab population and Arab wealth.
"Our ambition is to extend our license in (Saudi Arabia) to cover conventional banking, commercial retail banking because we believe there is a lot of added value to bring to this market … But for the time being there is no prospect."
He said Bank Audi also had submitted an application for a license with Algeria’s central bank.
The bank’s GDR shares closed down 1.7 percent at $8.06 before the results were announced, while its main shares closed unchanged at $8.00.
Lebanon’s banking sector is one of the country’s main strengths and strict central bank regulations meant Lebanese banks avoided the worst of the financial crisis.