* Q2 net profit 2.64 bln riyals vs yr-ago 2.6 bln - statement
* H1 net profit 5.1 bln riyals, up 7 pct yr-on-yr
* Loan growth drops to 10.1 pct (Adds detail, context)
DUBAI, July 8 (Reuters) - Qatar National Bank (QNB), the largest lender in the Gulf Arab region, posted a 1.5 percent rise in second quarter net profit on Tuesday, beating analysts’ expectations despite slowing loan growth.
The bank, whose results are generally seen as a bellwether for the sector’s performance in Qatar, made a net profit of 2.64 billion riyals ($725.2 million) in the three months to June 30, compared with 2.6 billion riyals in the corresponding period of last year, according to its financial statement.
Analysts polled by Reuters on average forecast QNB would make a quarterly net profit of 2.53 billion riyals.
QNB, which is aiming to become the largest bank in the Middle East and Africa by 2017, said its net profit for the first six months of 2014 rose 7 percent year-on-year to 5.1 billion riyals.
Loans and advances stood at 326 billion riyals at the end of June, up 10.1 percent year-on-year, according to the statement.
The level of growth is much slower than the bank has recorded in recent times - in the previous five quarters, QNB had posted year-on-year lending growth above 20 percent.
Lending growth in Qatar has been a major driver of banks’ profits in recent quarters and is expected to remain high for the medium term as the Gulf Arab state spends billions of dollars on infrastructure and preparations to host the soccer World Cup in 2022.
But total lending growth across the Qatari banking sector dropped to 9.8 percent in May, its slowest annual increase since March 2011, according to central bank data.
Deposits at the lender, which is 50 percent owned by sovereign wealth fund Qatar Investment Authority, grew 5.8 percent year-on-year to 345 billion riyals at June 30.
$1 = 3.6403 Qatar Riyals Reporting by David French; Editing by Matt Smith, editing by David Evans