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Bank Hollandi sale points to ABN restructuring

The Saudi banking sector is set for sustained growth on the back of GCC-wide economic development. Foreign banks are keen to join the bonanza.

Since the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority, the central bank, began to grant licences to foreign banks in 2001, HSBC, Deutsche Bank and BNP Paribas have been among the grateful recipients.

ABN Amro’s decision to swim against the tide by pulling out has raised a few eyebrows. The Dutch lender is planning to sell its 40% stake in Bank Saudi Hollandi, the smallest of the 10 listed banks in the kingdom, with Standard Chartered and the National Bank of Kuwait the most likely buyers. But although ABN refuses to discuss the sale process, and does not even officially confirm it, its seemingly illogical move does fit into the broader picture of the bank’s strategy.

According to an ABN Amro investor relations report stating the financial performance of Q1 to Q3 2006, the bank plans to “accelerate growth in selected markets and to focus the activity of the bank”. This sounds like a restructuring, which generally involves the shedding of non-core assets. And indeed, ABN Amro sold Bouwfonds Property Finance to SNS REAAL Group as recently as December 2006.

Growth plans

The investor relations report puts the decision to exit the Saudi market into context by stating that the bank intends to improve its performance by “executing our growth plans for business units in Latin America, Asia and Banca Antonveneta”.

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