DUBAI  - Saudi Arabia's National Commercial Bank (NCB), the kingdom's largest lender, reported an 11.8 percent rise in fourth-quarter net profit on Tuesday, helped by a drop in expenses and lower impairment charges.

The bank made a net profit of 2.56 billion riyals ($683 million) in the three months to Dec. 31, up from 2.29 billion riyals in the same period of 2016, it said in a bourse statement.

SICO Bahrain had forecast NCB would report a profit of 2.16 billion riyals. 

Moody's Investors Service said this month that it expected a pick-up in lending in Saudi Arabia, fuelled by higher government spending and a private-sector stimulus package that would boost economic activity.

Loan growth for the banking sector contracted by 1 percent while deposits rose 0.1 percent in 2017, following an outflow of deposits in 2016 as falling oil prices strained public finances.

(Reporting by Saeed Azhar; Editing by Andrew Torchia) ((; +97144536787; Reuters Messaging: