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Byblos Bank plans bold move into Sudan - Khartoum branch to open in June (Daily Star)

In its first move to expand outside the Levant, Byblos Bank plans to open a bank in Sudan to tap the promising market there, chairman Francois Bassil said Monday.

Bassil said the Byblos-Sudan Bank, which will have a capital of $12 million, will open in Khartoum at the end of June.
“Sudan has oil wealth in many parts of the country,” Bassil told The Daily Star, saying the country is producing 300,000 barrels of oil per year.

The $12 million capital is the minimum set by the Central Bank of Sudan.

He added that 65 percent of the bank’s capital will be raised by Byblos and the rest by other partners.
Byblos will be the only Lebanese bank to open in the troubled African country.

“The market in Lebanon is getting smaller and smaller,” Bassil said. “For this reason we need to look outside the country to sustain profits.”
“In addition to oil, Sudan has tremendous gold wealth,” he added.
Byblos-Sudan Bank will offer regular banking services to its Sudanese customers while complying with Islamic banking principles.

Sudan, which is trying to open up its economy, has invited Arab and foreign companies and banks to invest in the country.
Bassil said Byblos hopes to open more branches in other parts of Sudan in the future.

The chairman also said the bank’s general assembly agreed Monday to raise the capital by $100 million. With this capital increase, the bank’s private equity would reach $500 million.

Bassil expressed confidence in profits from Byblos-Sudan Bank and said that Byblos Bank is also exploring the possibility of opening new branches in other Arab states.
With assets of more than $5 billion, Byblos Bank made a net profit of $44 million in 2002.

Many leading local banks say the slow economic growth and high public debt are affecting profitability.
Most local banks have managed to maintain last year’s profit level despite the difficult economic environment, but bankers say profits will drop after the government cut interest rates on Treasury bills to reduce debt servicing.

Banks have also pledged to use 10 percent of their deposits to buy two-year T-bills and eurobonds at zero percent interest to cut debt servicing by $400 million. In addition, the government slapped a 5 percent tax on interest on deposits. Some bankers think these measures will take their toll on Lebanese banks after two or three years.

Five Lebanese banks have won permits to open branches in Syria after it passed a law two years ago allowing private banks to operate in the country.

Beirut 31-03-2003
Osama Habib
The Daily Star

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