* Bank revenues grow despite regional turmoil
* Deposits grow more than $1.5 billion to $34.4 bln in 2013
* Board proposes 37 pct cash dividend for 2013 vs 30 pct in 2012 (Adds dividends, more details and background)
By Suleiman Al-Khalidi
AMMAN, Jan 25 (Reuters) - Jordan’s largest lender, Arab Bank Group, posted a 43 percent rise in net profit to $501.9 million last year on higher revenues, with its chairman saying a conservative policy eased the impact of political upheaval across the region.
Chairman Sabih al-Masri said in a statement the bank, one of the Middle East’s major financial institutions, saw deposits grow by $1.5 billion to $34.4 billion in the year.
“This was in spite of the challenging environment in the region with the solid growth in operating income reflecting prudent and conservative policies the bank preserved and the strategy it pursued,” Masri said.
Masri said the board had proposed paying out 37 percent of its 2013 profits in dividend payments, up from 30 percent in 2012.
Arab Bank, which has a $45.6 billion balance sheet spread across 30 countries and five continents, had seen a slowdown in profit growth in recent years as it put aside provisions to cover non-performing loans at businesses reeling from the global downturn.
Bankers said the jump in Arab Bank’s profits last year partly reflects the fact that it put aside less provisions, although the bank itself gave no figure. It set aside nearly $1 billion in provisions in 2011 and 2012 to cover bad loans.
Bankers say the wave of political unrest across the region since 2011 will continue to affect the bank’s business in 2014, but a diversified portfolio will help reduce its risks.
Arab Bank’s Chief Executive Officer Nemeh al-Sabbagh said the bank would focus on keeping a high level of liquidity, after posting a capital adequacy ratio of 15.15 percent at the end of 2013.
“It’s important to keep high liquidity, which is a main pillar of the bank’s solid financial position,” Sabbagh said.
The bank’s net operating income exceeded $1 billion in 2013 as a result of growth in net interest and cost-cutting measures, Sabbagh said.
He said the bank had set aside enough provisions to cover all its non-performing loans.
Investment analysts say the bank has traditionally had a lower risk appetite than peers and it favours capitalisation and liquidity versus profitability.
Arab Bank’s growth has long been tied to its regional and global expansion, and it has built a reputation for low vulnerability to major political upheaval.
Its subsidiary in Syria was one of several foreign banks still operating in the civil war-torn country. It has a strong presence in Egypt and north Africa alongside the Gulf.
The firm is one of the Arab world’s largest privately owned banks. More than 20 percent is owned by the family of Lebanon’s former prime minister, Rafik al-Hariri, who was assassinated in 2005. Jordan’s social pension fund holds a 15.5 stake.
Arab Bank owns 40 percent of Saudi Arabia’s Arab National Bank ANB. (Editing by Hugh Lawson)