* Qatar banks look to Asia for funds, Europe also attractive
* More private placements, bilateral loans likely
* Public bond, sukuk markets ruled out for now
* Cost of funding to rise
By Tom Arnold
DUBAI, Aug 24 (Reuters) - Qatari banks are turning to Asia and Europe for funding after clients from other Arab states pulled billions of dollars from their accounts following a regional diplomatic rift.
While the Qatari government has placed large deposits in its lenders to help offset the outflows, banks are trying to find new private funding as analysts warn there are likely to be more heavy withdrawals in the coming months.
Two sources told Reuters that Qatar National Bank (QNB) has held talks, arranged by banks including Standard Chartered, with investors in Taiwan about a private placement of Formosa bonds - debt sold there by foreign issuers and denominated in currencies other than the Taiwan dollar.
One of the sources added that QNB, which is the Middle East’s largest bank, was also considering private placements in other Asian markets.
The lender has around $6 billion in bonds and medium term notes maturing between now and mid-2018, much of which it is likely to aim to refinance, the source said, adding that this was most efficient step in light of the rift.
Qatar Islamic Bank, the country’s largest Islamic lender, has recently raised funds through private placement deals in Japanese yen and Australian dollars.
It is now exploring more such deals in Europe and Asia, as well as a certificate of deposit programme and a Murabaha - a cost-plus-profit Islamic facility - to raise cash, according to an international banker.
The bank did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.
A spokesman for Qatar National Bank said: “We have several proposals for a Formosa issue from several international banks dealing in that part of the world.”
However, he added that nothing had yet been agreed or decided on the timing of the issue or the choice of advisers.
“It is natural for QNB to regularly tap the different international markets maintaining close relations with its investor base as a frequent issuer. This is part of the overall QNB’s wholesale funding strategy agreed before the regional diplomatic rift,” he said.
Many Qatari banks are facing greater urgency to secure funding since June when the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain imposed a diplomatic and commercial boycott on Qatar, accusing it of funding terrorism. Qatar denies the allegations.
The crisis has led to an outflow of around $7.5 billion in foreign customers’ deposits and a further $15 billion in foreign interbank deposits and borrowings, believed to be mainly from those four Arab countries, Qatari central bank data shows.
Analysts estimate a further $3 to $4 billion could leave in the coming months. In response, Qatar’s government deposited nearly $18 billion with local banks in June and July, according to the same data.
The exodus of cash was a threat to liquidity and likely to increase competition among Qatari banks for deposits, pushing up funding costs and squeezing margins, Fitch Ratings warned on Wednesday.
Before the crisis, Europe was the largest source of total funding, including deposits and wholesale funding, for Qatari banks. This was slightly ahead of clients in member states of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, of which Qatar remains a member.
After a fall in government deposits in Qatar’s banking system in 2016, banks reacted by attracting costlier non-resident deposits and increasing wholesale funding to sustain their growth. Deposits represent 75 percent of Qatari banks’ non-equity funding, according to Fitch. Foreign customer deposits accounting for around a quarter of total deposits.
One Asian banker said Asian investors were attracted by the high ratings of Qatari banks, but that European investors might find the price of Qatar debt on the “rich side”, particularly as it could be tricky to trade in the secondary market if the rift continues for long.
Qatari bankers say they have received a stream of phone calls and visits from many international banks in recent weeks, proving they’ve kept faith with the Gulf state.
One Qatar-based source said an Asian bank chief executive had recently visited certain Qatari banks to reassure them that it would support them, while an unnamed Singapore-based lender was also in talks with a Qatari bank about providing a bilateral credit facility.
QNB, the Qatari bank with the most diversified funding sources, has also been the most active in Asia and last year issued a $1.10 billion Formosa bond via private placement.
Many other Qatari banks are likely to seek similar deals either through private placement bonds or sukuk or bilateral loans from relationship banks, sources said.
“There has been an increase in private placements, as these are easier to conclude in more uncertain times, but we understand a number of these are with international investors,” said Redmond Ramsdale, senior director of financial institutions at Fitch. “The international bond markets are open to the Qatari banks, but higher perceived risk is resulting in higher required yields.”
The Asian banker estimated top-tier Qatari banks could pay an extra 40 to 50 basis points on private placement bond deals compared with before the rift, with more for smaller lenders.
The same banker also expressed scepticism whether private placements and bilateral loans would be enough to cover all of the banks’ funding needs. “They already had liquidity needs before the crisis, so it’s difficult to know whether they will be able to do that in the volumes they need to compensate for loss of liquidity,” the banker said.
Amid the rift, public bond markets appear unattractive for Qatari banks. Many are nervous about having to offer a higher yield and about the level of investor appetite, given that the smaller lenders particularly have historically relied on demand from Gulf banks, especially those from the UAE.
The situation appears especially acute for Islamic banks, with investors from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain among the largest investors in the international sukuk market.
Qatar International Islamic Bank remains uncertain when it will issue a planned U.S. dollar-denominated sukuk, sources told Reuters. It appointed banks in May for the potential issue, Reuters reported at the time.
The bank declined to comment when contacted by Reuters. ($1 = 3.6414 Qatar riyals) (Reporting by Tom Arnold; editing by David Stamp)