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Road expansion works in progress on 32nd Street in Abu Dhabi. Infrastructure spending will boost the capital's economy. Ravindranath K / The National
Road expansion works in progress on 32nd Street in Abu Dhabi. Infrastructure spending will boost the capital's economy. Ravindranath K / The National

SMEs to gain better access to UAE lenders

Smaller contractors and suppliers ought to find access to loans made easier as they compete for a slice of a Dh330 billion spending programme rolled out by the Abu Dhabi government this week.

Smaller contractors and suppliers ought to find access to loans made easier as they compete for a slice of a Dh330 billion (US$89.84bn) spending programme rolled out by the Abu Dhabi Government this week.

Alongside a flurry of projects being launched in Dubai, including new hotels, malls and infrastructure, small businesses acting as auxiliary support to big government-linked and international firms should provide new opportunities to the banks that lend to them.

That follows a year in which obtaining credit proved challenging for private sector companies.

Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (ADCB) forecasts lending to the small and medium enterprise (SME) sector will grow by some 30 per cent during the year, said Nilanjan Ray, its head of business banking.

"When you have such development a lot of downstream businesses will benefit, and most of the benefits will go to small and mid-sized businesses, and also for businesses in Dubai," he said.

Mr Ray said ADCB's small business lending unit doubled credit availability from Dh2bn to Dh4bn during last year.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, this week announced a Dh330bn spending plan for Abu Dhabi, including new infrastructure and housing developments, and follows a governmental review of existing works in the healthcare and education sectors. Dubai laid plans in November for Mohammed bin Rashid City, a new mega-development consisting of more than 100 hotels, a public garden the size of London's Hyde Park, and the world's biggest mall.

Other large-scale infrastructure works are also being rolled out.

The Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority said it had prequalified six international consortiums for a power and water plant yesterday.

Banks will find ample lending opportunities among the smaller organisations taking part in the infrastructure expansion, said Rezwan Mirza, the regional head of Barclays' corporate banking division.

"Banks will play an important part in this proposed expansion plan as they will help support contractors and suppliers with a variety of financial services and products such as performance bonds, working capital financing and various forms of term lending," he said.

Many banks have sought to grow their lending to entrepreneurs and other smaller companies as a highly profitable - albeit risky - business line that is relatively underserved by the UAE's lenders.

Outside of commercial holding companies with state backing, lending to private industry in the UAE was stagnant throughout the first half of last year.

Claims on private sector companies, including commercial bills, loans, advances and mortgages, fell by 0.8 per cent during the first eight months of last year, according to the latest available data from the Central Bank.

Total lending grew by 1.8 per cent across the board during the same period.

The Central Bank's exposure limits on lending to government-related entities resulted in a sapping of credit availability in the UAE's public sector, forcing banks to explore other areas of business. Small businesses are considered the engine of economic growth and job creation and have been targeted in policy initiatives from the governments of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, while banks including HSBC, Mashreq and RAK Bank have all sought to grow their small business lending units.

The rules, widely viewed as too stringent by lenders, were rolled back in December after months of lobbying by banks.

Banks had already failed to meet a September 30 deadline for compliance with the new rules.

 

ghunter@thenational.ae

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