Sluggish credit growth in the post-crisis period was hardly a unique development, as indicated in our latest Regional Economic Outlook for the Middle East and Central Asia region. But while there are clearer signs of recovery in some countries, credit to the private sector is still barely growing in the six nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council, notwithstanding policy efforts to revive it. It might seem easy to ring the alarm bells. But there are a number of reasons why we are not as concerned about the slowdown in credit growth—among them that the adjustment reflects a much needed correction from very high—perhaps unsustainable—rates of credit growth witnessed during the boom years.
By Masood Ahmed
The IMF’s latest regional economic outlook for the Middle East compares the performance of Islamic banks in the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) with conventional ones during the global financial crisis.
Islamic banks were less affected during the initial phase of the crisis, reflecting a stronger first-round impact on conventional banks through mark-to-market valuations on securities in 2008. But, in 2009, data for the first half of the year indicate somewhat larger declines in profitability for Islamic banks, revealing the second-round effect of the crisis on the real economy, especially real estate.
Going forward, Islamic banks overall are better poised to withstand additional stress, according to the IMF analysis.
Islamic banks have grown substantially in recent years, with their assets currently estimated at close to $850 billion. Overall, the risk profile of Islamic banks is similar to conventional banks in that the risk profile of Shariah-compliant contracts is largely similar to that in conventional contracts, and credit risk is the main risk for both types of banks.
Unlike conventional banks, however, Islamic banks are not permitted to have any direct exposure to financial derivatives or conventional financial institutions’ securities—which were hit most during the global crisis.