DUBAI-  Qatar National Bank (QNB) posted a 9% rise in quarterly profit on Monday, helped by healthy loan growth and cost savings.

Gulf banks are recovering as pandemic-linked restrictions are eased and economic activity picks up, enjoying a boost from higher energy prices as oil is the region's biggest export.

The Gulf's biggest bank reported a net profit of 3.62 billion Qatar riyals ($989.6 million) for the three months to March 31, up from 3.31 billion riyals a year earlier.

EFG Hermes had predicted a net profit of 3.68 billion riyals in the first quarter.

QNB said in a statement that loans and advances grew 6% in the first quarter from a year earlier, as economic activity picked up.

S&P Global rating expects Qatar's economy to expand 4% in 2022, supported by high vaccination rates, the soccer World Cup, and higher hydrocarbon prices.

Qatari banks have minimal direct exposure to Russian or Ukrainian counterparties, the rating agency said in a report last week.

The bank said its cost-to-income ratio fell to 20.8% in the first quarter from 23.4% a year earlier, citing cost-savings and enhanced revenue sources. Customer deposits grew by 5%.

QNB has received regulatory approval to increase its foreign ownership limit to 100% from April 6, it said.

$1 = 3.6580 Qatar riyals) (Reporting by Saeed Azhar Editing by David Goodman and Bernadette Baum)