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Outlook for Kuwait’s banking system stable, says Moody’s – Govt spending to continue despite low oil prices

LONDON, Sept 19: Moody’s Investors Service’s outlook for Kuwait’s banking system remains stable, reflecting the rating agency’s expectation of continued government spending and growing lossabsorbing buffers, which will allow banks to manage modest new problem loan formation and balances an increase in market funding reliance that the rating agency expects in the context of low oil prices.

The outlook expresses Moody’s expectation of how bank creditworthiness will evolve in Kuwait over the next 12-18 months.

Moody’s report, entitled “Banking System Outlook — Kuwait: Government Spending and Growing Loss-Absorbing Buffers Drive Stable Outlook” is available on www.moodys.com. Moody’s subscribers can access this report via the link provided at the end of this press release. “Spending by the Kuwaiti government, even as oil prices stay low, will maintain growth momentum and support operating conditions for the country’s banks,” says Alexios Philippides, Assistant Vice President — Analyst at Moody’s. “Execution of the government’s new five-year development plan will drive new business for banks, while domestic consumption will remain strong, supporting our projections of 7% credit growth.”

While the country’s economy remains highly dependent on oil — contributing over two-thirds of government revenues and accounting directly for around 45% of GDP in 2015 — policymakers are pushing ahead with nonoil related infrastructure projects, as noted in May 2016.

Furthermore, enhanced loss absorption buffers, by way of stronger capital levels (with a Basel III Tier 1 ratio of 15.3% at year-end 2015) and a growing cushion of general provisions — 3.8% of gross loans as of year-end 2015 — will allow Kuwaiti banks to manage new problem loan formation, which the rating agency expects to be modest.

Nevertheless, downside risks to asset quality will remain elevated, owing to high credit concentration and banks’ exposure to real estate and equity markets. Direct exposure to the real estate sector accounted for 24% of banks’ loan books as of March 2016 and real estate transactions by value have continued to moderate compared to a very strong performance in 2014.

The rating agency forecasts non-performing loans (NPLs) of around 3-4% of ross loans for 2016-17, from 3.3% for rated banks at year-end 2015.

Profitability will likely remain relatively unchanged, with the system’s net income to average assets at just over 1.1% during the outlook period.

“While net interest and fee income growth will be strong, Kuwaiti banks will continue to book elevated provisions — both domestically and abroad — that had consumed roughly 33% of pre-provision income in 2014-15,” explains Philippides. “Margins will remain broadly stable as longer term government issuances to fund the fiscal deficit and higher yields on lending will counter higher cost of funds.”

Moody’s also notes that Kuwaiti banks are better placed to weather the period of tightening liquidity in the Gulf region than regional peers. Though market funding reliance will increase, as loans will grow faster than deposits, Kuwaiti banks will remain primarily deposit funded and liquidity buffers will remain comfortable.

Finally, Moody’s expects the Kuwaiti government to remain committed and able to support banks, if needed, despite current fiscal pressures. The government has stepped in to provide capital in the past and can call on financial assets managed by the country’s sovereign wealth fund — estimated at $600 billion at end-June 2016, which is more than five times the size of the country’s GDP.

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