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CASHING IN? Retail boom not a bonanza for UAE banks

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For retail bankers in the UAE, extracting value from the latest consumer boom is not as easy as it might seem at first glance; after all lessons from past excesses has made both borrowers and the central bank - more cautious towards debt.

June 15, 2012 6:01 by



Thursday night – the beginning of the weekend – and thousands have flocked to Dubai’s Mall of the Emirates, one of the largest shopping centres in the world, to shop, eat, watch a movie or a have a few runs down the indoor ski slope.

It’s a similar story – minus the ski slope – at Dubai Mall, another of the emirate’s ‘mega-malls’. It attracted 54 million visitors in 2011, a 15 percent year-on-year growth; by contrast, New York City welcomed 50.5 million visitors last year.

“People are spending more than they were last year and there is more buoyancy and confidence in the market,” said Vipen Sethi, chief executive of Landmark Group, a retail conglomerate with a presence in 17 countries across the Middle East, Africa and South Asia.

Traditionally, heightened consumer spending would be a boon for retail banks as it would create more demand for credit – whether it be personal or car loans or credit card spending.

But for retail bankers in the United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is one of seven emirates, extracting value from the latest consumer boom is not as easy as it might seem at first glance.

Lessons from past excesses has made both borrowers and the country’s regulator – the UAE central bank – more cautious towards debt, meaning that while lending is growing, the growth is moderate and banks are earning less from what they do lend.

 

Heightened competition is also impacting, further eroding bank income.

 

However, the buoyancy being created by the levels of consumer spending mean banks can still expect to see moderate growth this year from their retail operations.

 

“While I can’t say specific numbers, the bottom line has been extremely positive in the first few months of the year,” said Arup Mukhopadhyay, head of consumer banking at Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, the UAE’s third largest bank by market capitalisation.



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