Doha Bank to spend $300m on acquisitions - Emirates24|7

Doha Bank to spend $300m on acquisitions

Raghavan Seetharaman says expansion would focus on Islamic banking. (PATRICK CASTILLO)

Doha Bank, Qatar's fourth-largest bank by market value and its largest private commercial bank, will spend $300 million (Dh1.1 billion) on acquisitions this year.

The chief executive, Raghavan Seetharaman, told Emirates Business that although market conditions have turned sour in the past few months, they are still looking for acquisitions in Asia and the United States.

"Size is the name of the game, so in addition to being a quality-driven institution we are looking at acquisition options in Asia and also globally. So if there are good opportunities in banking, insurance, asset management or brokerage we will be interested in acquiring," he said in an interview in Dubai.

The bank, which has recently opened a representative office in Bucharest, Romania, and a branch in New York, plans to expand in Houston and Washington.

"We are cashing in on market opportunities, so we are also looking at expanding in the US as soon as possible," he said, adding that as the home market was close to saturation more growth could be brought about by reaching out to countries outside Qatar.

The Qatari bank will also begin full-scale operations in South Korea and Kuwait next month, he added.

"We plan to enter other GCC countries to add to our existing branches in Doha and Dubai. Some are in feasibility studies, while in other places we are already planning to apply for regulatory approval," Seetharaman said.

Doha Bank opened representative offices in Tokyo and Shanghai last year, targeting investment by Asian companies in Qatar. The bank also has an office in Singapore and has established a brokerage firm in India.

Seetharaman said last year that a significant proportion of the bank's expansion would revolve around the growing Islamic bond or sukuk market. The bank is currently working on fund-raising plans.

He declined to say when it will launch its investment banking and asset management services with a major international investment bank, in a joint venture expected to be completed mid-2008. "We are now in a moderate mood in our expansion plans because of the changing phase of the market," Seetharaman said.

"After August last year, the market conditions have changed. So we want to do things cost-effectively. We do not want to rush."

The bank is also delaying the fund raising for the Middle East's first carbon trading scheme next year due to the current financial crisis.

Seetharaman said he will keep the planned $1bn sukuk on hold until they get further consumers' confidence.

"Things are currently not getting any better on account of the credit crunch so I am going to hold it perhaps until next year. Why should I [pay a price] that is not cost effective? I have to make money out of it," he said

"It's not the best time to go to the markets and borrow funds now," he added.

Doha Bank last year announced that it aims to sell a $1bn sukuk to finance investment in renewable energy by the middle of 2008, using the money for projects such as an exchange for trading greenhouse gas emissions permits.

The bank, which plans to start the Gulf's first carbon-credits exchange in 2009 to tap an emerging market for emissions trading, has recently announced its net profit rose 22.64 per cent to Qatari riyals 274m in the first quarter of 2008 compared to QR 223.4m in the corresponding period last year.