December bank loans down as lending to businesses falls

Members of the public using the UOB ATMs which are located next to DBS bank at Toa Payoh Central.
Members of the public using the UOB ATMs which are located next to DBS bank at Toa Payoh Central. PHOTO: ST FILE

Total loans down 0.7% from Nov; consumer loans flat too

Total bank loans fell last month from November as lending to businesses declined while consumer borrowing stayed flat.

Overall, loans totalled $599.8 billion last month, down 0.7 per cent from the previous month.

Loans to businesses were down 1.2 per cent at $357 billion. The drop was especially marked in the general commerce sector, where borrowing slid 5.5 per cent.

The manufacturing sector also took a big hit, with loans falling 3.2 per cent, reflecting an ongoing decline in output.

Manufacturing output fell 7.9 per cent last month from the same period a year before - its 11th straight month of decline.

Loans to financial services firms also fell, down 1.5 per cent.

The only sectors to take up more loans were transport, storage and communication - lending was up a strong 6 per cent to companies in this industry grouping - and business services, to which lending rose 0.3 per cent.

Meanwhile, consumer loans came in at $242.8 billion, up just 0.2 per cent from November, fuelled mainly by a big jump in share financing, which more than doubled to $2.3 billion.

Housing and bridging loans rose by a slight 0.2 per cent last month to $184.7 billion, while credit card debt grew 1 per cent to $10.3 billion.

Car loans continued to decline.

Overall, December bank lending was 1.2 per cent down from the same month the year before, due to a sharp drop in business loans.

Business loans fell 3.7 per cent last month from a year ago, while consumer loans rose 2.7 per cent over the same period.

For 2015 as a whole, loans grew just 1.1 per cent from the year before, the slowest since 2002.

OCBC Bank economist Selena Ling said that this is in line with the tepid 2.1 per cent headline economic growth seen last year.

"We probably could continue to see flattish loans growth for the first half of 2016, given the weak domestic business sentiments," she wrote in a report yesterday.

ANZ economist Ng Weiwen said the figures reflect how tough things have become for businesses over the past year.

"Corporates are in an environment with tight liquidity and financial conditions, along with a strong US dollar - they are caught in a double whammy," he said.

"Many corporates took on a lot of US-dollar debt when US interest rates were low and now their debt servicing burden is quite significant. So their appetite for taking on more loans is reduced, and banks are also granting fewer loans to them."

Consumer loans will likely start slowing in the next couple of months as well, as softening economic conditions start to bite harder on the employment market, he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 30, 2016, with the headline 'December bank loans downas lending to businesses falls'. Print Edition | Subscribe