Kuwait - Banking and Finance

Kuwait - Banking and Finance

Before independence in 1961, foreign monies, largely the Indian rupee in the period between 1930 and 1960, circulated in Kuwait. At independence the Kuwaiti dinar was introduced, and a currency board was established to issue dinar notes and to maintain reserves. In 1959 the Central Bank of Kuwait was created and took over the functions of the currency board and the regulation of the banking system.

The first bank in Kuwait was established in 1941 by British investors. Subsequent laws prohibited foreign banks from conducting business in the country. When the British bank's concession ended in 1971, the government bought 51 percent ownership. In 1952 another bank, the National Bank of Kuwait, the largest commercial bank, was founded. The establishment of several other banks, all under Kuwaiti ownership, followed. Some specialized financial institutions also emerged: the Credit and Savings Bank, established in 1965 by the government to channel funds into domestic projects in industry, agriculture, and housing; the Industrial Bank of Kuwait, established in 1974 to fill the gap in medium- and long-term industrial financing; and the private Real Estate Bank of Kuwait. By the 1980s, Kuwait's banks were among the region's largest and most active financial institutions. Then came the Suq al Manakh stock market crash in 1982.

The large revenues of the 1970s left many private individuals with substantial funds at their disposal. These funds prompted a speculation boom in the official stock market in the mid-1970s that culminated in a small crash in 1977. The government's response to this crash was to bail out the affected investors and to introduce stricter regulations. This response unintentionally contributed to the far larger stock market crash of the 1980s by driving the least risk-averse speculators into the technically illegal alternate market, the Suq al Manakh. The Suq al Manakh had emerged next to the official stock market, which was dominated by several older wealthy families who traded, largely among themselves, in very large blocks of stock. The Suq al Manakh soon became the market for the new investor and, in the end, for many old investors as well.

Share dealings using postdated checks created a huge unregulated expansion of credit. The crash of the unofficial stock market finally came in 1982, when a dealer presented a postdated check for payment and it bounced. A house of cards collapsed. Official investigation revealed that total outstanding checks amounted to the equivalent of US$94 billion from about 6,000 investors. Kuwait's financial sector was badly shaken by the crash, as was the entire economy. The crash prompted a recession that rippled through society as individual families were disrupted by the investment risks of particular members made on family credit. The debts from the crash left all but one bank in Kuwait technically insolvent, held up only by support from the Central Bank. Only the National Bank of Kuwait, the largest commercial bank, survived the crisis intact. In the end, the government stepped in, devising a complicated set of policies, embodied in the Difficult Credit Facilities Resettlement Program. The implementation of the program was still incomplete in 1990 when the Iraqi invasion changed the entire financial picture.

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