Fitch Ratings has assigned Trade Bank of Iraq (TBI) a Long-Term Issuer Default Rating (IDR) of ‘B-‘ with Stable Outlook.
According to Saudi Gazette, this makes TBI the first bank in Iraq to get B- from Fitch.
IDRS AND VIABILITY RATING
TBI’s IDRs are driven by the bank’s Viability Rating (VR) and underpinned by potential sovereign support.
TBI’s VR of ‘b-‘ is constrained by the operating environment in Iraq, which can be volatile and challenging, and where TBI generates 85% of its business volume (on- and off-balance sheet exposure). Therefore, the operating environment and broader country risks influence TBI’s standalone risk profile.
TBI’s company profile is a relative strength for the rating. It captures the bank’s important trade finance role, as Iraq’s primary bank for financing imports, leading market share in Iraq (30% of sector assets), and largely government-led business in terms of lending, off-balance sheet transactions and customer deposit funding.
TBI was set up in 2003 by the Coalition Provisional Authority (the transitional government of Iraq at the time) with the support of a consortium of 13 major international banks from 13 countries, which provided technical and operational expertise. TBI is now fully operational and is systemically important to Iraq.
TBI’s key strategic objectives are to build a universal banking franchise in Iraq (with growth in domestic retail banking and project finance) and expand regionally through acquisitions. The latter is partly driven by the government’s efforts to reintegrate Iraq in the international financial markets. This also opens the bank to significant execution risks if the expansion is not managed adequately. The bank currently has a representative office in Abu Dhabi and has recently been granted licence to open a branch Saudi Arabia.
Asset quality is a rating weakness. TBI has a very high impaired loan ratio (41% at end-2017). Most impaired exposures were originated during 2014-2015 in a period of political turmoil and heightened security risks with the rise of ISIS in Iraq. Recent impaired loan generation is attributable to the drop in oil prices given the high oil dependence nature of the Iraqi economy (oil accounts for more than 50% of GDP). TBI’s impaired loans include both cash loans and trade finance facilities that got impaired (moved onto balance sheet). Under new management, TBI has made strong strides in recoveries, which total USD640 million to date in 2018 (2017: USD210 million).
TBI has a satisfactory funding and liquidity position, helped by substantial government deposits. Profitability is also satisfactory, with core net interest income growing in 2017 despite slow business volume growth due to conflict and low oil prices.
Capitalisation is a relative strength, with TBI reporting very strong regulatory Basel I total capital adequacy ratio and Fitch Core Capital ratio of 67% at end-2017. At the same time, these strong metrics should be viewed in the context of 0% risk weightings applied to all of TBI’s sovereign and government exposure. TBI is expected to report regulatory capital ratios under Basel III in 2019.
For now, TBI’s leverage, as defined by the bank’s tangible common equity/tangible assets ratio, which was a satisfactory 16.7% at end-2017, is a more reasonable measure of capitalisation in our view.
TBI has around USD3.7 billion equivalent of Iraqi dinar deposits trapped in the Kurdish region due to a political dispute with the central government, which would eliminate TBI’s equity if deducted. TBI expects to recover this amount due to ongoing discussions between both parties. These deposits are excluded from TBI’s reported liquidity ratios (Basel III liquidity coverage ratio of 186% and net stable funding ratio of 162% at end-9M18), which are very healthy.
SUPPORT RATING AND SUPPORT RATING FLOOR
TBI’s Support Rating of ‘5’ and Support Rating Floor of ‘B-‘ reflect Fitch view that sovereign support, while possible, cannot be relied upon.
Fitch believes that the authorities would have a strong propensity to support TBI in case of need. This considers the role played by TBI on behalf of the government, the bank’s systemic importance, as well as its 100% state-ownership. Nevertheless, Fitch’s view is that sovereign support cannot be relied upon given Iraq’s own creditworthiness (as indicated by the sovereign’s ‘B-‘ IDR) and potential delays in providing timely and sufficient support due to country risks including an uncertain political environment in Iraq.
IDRS AND VR
TBI’s IDRs and VR are sensitive to a change in the Iraqi sovereign rating. They are also sensitive to further asset quality deterioration or an increase in country risk, leading to more challenging operating conditions. Finally, the VR is also sensitive to TBI making a major acquisition abroad that could materially change its overall risk profile.
SUPPORT RATING AND SUPPORT RATING FLOOR
TBI’s SR and SRF are also sensitive to a change in the Iraqi sovereign rating. They could be downgraded/revised if Fitch views that the state’s willingness to support the bank is diminishing, for example in the event of a change in TBI’s role or a material reduction in government ownership.
The rating actions are as follows:
Trade Bank of Iraq
Long-Term IDR assigned at ‘B-‘: Outlook Stable
Short-Term IDR assigned at ‘B’
Viability Rating assigned at ‘b-‘
Support Rating assigned at ‘5’
Support Rating Floor assigned at ‘B-‘
(Sources: Fitch, Saudi Gazette)