Arab countries can expect an average growth of 3.5 per cent this year, according to Al Baraka Banking Group president and chief executive Adnan Yousif.Speaking on the sidelines of the bank's annual meeting at the Sheraton Hotel yesterday, he said there were signs that the economy was improving across the region, and things were looking up for the financial industry.He said that the bank was continuing to grow and was on course with its aim to have 700 branches by 2017, reported the Gulf Daily News, Trade Arabia's sister publication.Al Baraka - which has subsidiary banking units and representative offices in 15 countries and 424 branches - earned a net profit of $235 million in 2012, an increase of 11 per cent over the previous year."The group's results in 2012 emphasise the operational and earning sustainability that the group enjoys, which maintains its financial performance in a steady state of growth over the past years," he said."That is based on the robustness of the business strategies of the group, its wide geographical network, sound financial, technical and human resources, and growing customer base, despite the extreme difficult economic and banking environment during the past year."Shareholders approved a cash dividend amounting to $35,506,625 or 3.5 cents for each share.At an extraordinary general meeting shareholders approved the increase of the issued and paid-up share capital by transferring $33,815,833 to the share capital and issued bonus shares of one share for every 30 fully paid-up shares to the shareholders registered as of the date of this meeting."We consider the outstanding results achieved during 2012 as a clear embodiment of the success of the business model that we followed since the inception of the group, a model that reflects the true values of Islamic banking," said chairman Shaikh Saleh Abdulla Kamel."The economic and financial developments witnessed in year 2012  further compounded the adverse conditions arising from the global financial crisis," deputy chairman Abdulla Ammar Al Saudi told shareholders at the meeting."Because of this crisis, financial institutions all over the world were forced to adopt conservative and cautious business strategies. In view of these developments and conditions, the financial results achieved by the group in 2012 can be viewed as excellent by all standards," remarked Shaikh Saleh."These results reflect the success of the business strategies that we at the board of the group have put in place," he added.