By Mark DeWeaver.
I thought Sansar Capital’s recent report on the Iraqi banks was excellent. But I was surprised by its somewhat negative take on North Bank (BNOR). In particular, I found myself not entirely convinced by the following three points, which form the basis for their bearish case:
- Insufficient collateral for overdraft lending is a significant risk. Actually, this is only true if the bank has no ability to assess the cashflow situation of its customers. This is unlikely to be true of BNOR’s corporate overdraft clients, which include large cash-rich companies such as Asiacell.
- The new Central Bank of Iraq (CBI) auction rules threaten the growth of BNOR’s forex business. This will only be true if the bank’s customers are unable to find a way around the rules. But in fact they have in the past displayed considerable ingenuity in adapting to the CBI’s ever-changing forex policies. It’s not clear why this time should be different.
- The absence of auditors’ qualifications in the English translation of the 2011 annual report implies an effort to mislead foreign investors. Maybe. But in the bank’s favor, it’s worth pointing out that (1) these qualifications did not appear in the Arabic version of the 2012 annual report, (2) unlike most of the other banks, BNOR has at least gone to the trouble of having its annual report translated, and (3) when meeting with the bank’s management in person I have always found them to be extraordinarily candid.
In addition to this, the bank is one of Iraq’s best capitalized, being one of only three to have reached the CBI’s IQD 250 bn share capital target. It has also been one of the top performing names in the Iraqi market. Adjusted for capital increases, the shares have risen by over 250% since 2009.
What’s not to like?