From a lacklustre 3.0% GDP growth in 2009 in the wake of the global slowdown, the Tunisian economy improved in 2010, growing by an estimated 3.8% over the year. This growth reflected the emergence from recession of its most important European Union trading partners and the resulting increase in trade activity. Its current account deficit, which had reached a low point of $1.7 billion or -4.2% of GDP in 2008, improved upon 2009's $1.5 billion or -3.8% of GDP to end the year at $1.2 billion or -2.9%. Inflation increased a little to an estimated 4.5% compared with 3.5% the previous year.
As expected, the government established â€کTunisia Holdingâ€™ during the year to act as holding company for three of its largest national banks, in order to better control the strategies and activities of the constituent public sector banks. It also created a mega financial institution, called â€کAl Mubadarahâ€™ (meaning â€کtaking initiativeâ€™) to specialise in financing small and medium sized enterprises in addition to acting as holding company for the state's ownership of the SME financing bank â€کTunisian Dhamanâ€™ and other investment companies. The government also completed the first phase of the setting up of the Tunisian Foreign Bank, involving the restructuring of the capital of the former UTB (Union of Tunisian Banks) and increasing it by Euro 30 million. The Tunisian Foreign Bank meanwhile has prepared a 5-year business plan which includes plans for the establishment of a branch network in Europe, commencing with France, Italy and Germany.
It is hoped that the people's revolution of January 2011 which culminated in the removal of President Ben Ali from office has ushered in a new era of transparent and democratic government to the benefit of the people. It awaits to be seen whether the new government will continue to implement the policies of economic reform that were being followed by the last government and, indeed, to renew efforts to reduce unemployment and increase economic activity among small and medium sized businesses.
In 2010 Al Baraka Tunisia's total assets grew by 12% to reach $553 million, attributable mostly to the financings and investments portfolios which grew by 7.0% to aggregate $496 million, mostly attributable to the murabaha portfolio, as the sales receivables outstanding at the end of the year rose by 7% to $344 million, and to the Mudaraba financings, which also rose by 7% to equal $143 million. The assets were funded primarily by $454 million of customer deposits (including unrestricted investment accounts) which rose in aggregate by 13% as the total number of customer accounts grew to nearly 35,000. The portfolio increase translated into a similar increase in the joint income from sales receivables and jointly financed contracts and investments, which reached $18 million, resulting in a net return to the bank from this source of $13 million. Other sources of income contributed $6 million, mostly from banking services, so that the total operating income ended the year at $19 million. Operating expenses were about the same as in 2009 at $8 million so that, after a net provision write back and a slightly higher taxation charge, the bank reported a net profit of $11 million, the same as that for 2009.
Looking to the future, Al Baraka Tunisia's strategy will be to leverage on its new state-of-the-art core banking systems in order to enhance the banking services offered to its customers, including e-banking. It also plans to launch a Gold MasterCard. Its network will be expanded from the current 8 branches to 13 by 2015, in addition to the installation of ATMs at each of the new branches.
Mr. Laroussi Bayoudh, Vice Chairman & Managing Director of Al Baraka Bank Tunisia retired at the end of his term on 31st March 2011.
Mr. Fraj Zaag
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