Bank lending here suffered its worst contraction in more than a decade in March, as loans to businesses in particular slid amid sluggish economic growth.
Total loans shrank 1.74 per cent last month over March last year - the sixth straight month of diminishing loans.
This represents a more protracted slide than the one during the global financial crisis, said OCBC economist Selena Ling, who noted that the last such prolonged slump occurred between November 1999 and April 2000.
"This reinforces the picture that people are less upbeat and are more cautious. Demand is weak, and everyone is holding back and waiting to see how the storm pans out," she added.
March bank lending amounted to $590.6 billion, from $601.1 billion in the same month last year.
Last month's figure also came in below February's $596.2 billion, according to data from the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) out yesterday.
Business loans in March stood at $348.4 billion, down 4.2 per cent from a year ago in a seventh straight month of decline.
They also fell 1.6 per cent from the preceding month, as lending to general commerce firms, financial institutions and companies in the transport, storage and communication sector declined.
Businesses here, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, have been hit hard by the slowdown and ongoing economic restructuring.
Logistics firm GLE Integrated's managing director Ken Ngan expects revenue from the local market to fall 20 per cent to 25 per cent this year, compared with last year.
"There is not much business here (because of the downturn)," he said. The company is making up for this by ramping up investments in the region, for instance, expanding in Vietnam, he said .
The MAS data also showed that consumer lending in March came in at $242.2 billion - flat compared with February, but up from $237.6 billion a year earlier.
Housing and bridging loans, the largest component of loans to consumers, were also almost flat last month compared with February, at about $185.4 billion.