Bank lending in May restrained amid trade tensions

Bank lending may be unduly "restrained" until the fog over trade tensions clears, said a top economist yesterday, as growth in business lending eased last month.

Business loans through the domestic banking unit - which captures lending in all currencies, but reflects mainly Singapore-dollar lending - stood at $403 billion last month, up from 5.8 per cent a year ago. This was weaker than the 6.1 per cent increase noted in April, the data showed.

From a year ago, overall bank lending rose 5.5 per cent to $668 billion, weaker than the year-on-year increase of 5.7 per cent posted in April.

"Trade protectionism is already flagged as the top potential risk to the Singapore economy," said Ms Selena Ling, head of treasury research and strategy at OCBC Bank, in a report.

"As such, bank loans growth may be somewhat restrained in the short term until there is some clarity on the trade front."

Indeed, the weaker expansion in business lending last month was due to less active lending for general commerce.

Growth for lending to these trade-related industries stood at just 1.1 per cent from a year ago to $68.8 billion. This compared with the 5.4 per cent year-on-year expansion in April.

From a year ago, overall bank lending rose 5.5 per cent to $668 billion, weaker than the year-on-year increase of 5.7 per cent posted in April.

Loans to the transport, storage and communications industry, which would include oil-related firms, contracted slightly last month from a year ago, down 0.8 per cent to $22.3 billion, reversing from a 1 per cent expansion in April.

This trend likely reflects "growing business concerns about the escalating US-Sino trade rhetoric", which could increasingly drag on regional trade and logistics activity in the coming months if the US tariffs materialise and are met with retaliatory measures from its key trading partners, said Ms Ling.

But she added that for the domestic economy, especially the domestic-oriented services, momentum remains resilient. Building loans, which make up the single-largest business-lending segment, continued to expand last month from a year ago, up 1.4 per cent to $124 billion.

This is stronger than the 0.5 per cent gain in April.

Consumer loans' growth remained steady at 5 per cent from a year ago to $265 billion.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 30, 2018, with the headline 'Bank lending in May restrained amid trade tensions'. Print Edition | Subscribe