x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Loans hard to come by despite stimulus

Banks are imposing tough restrictions on borrowing in apparent defiance of the wishes of the Central Bank

Banks are imposing tough restrictions on borrowing in apparent defiance of the wishes of the Central Bank, even as the authorities prepare to pour billions more dirhams into the financial system to ease credit. Lenders are demanding higher interest rates and making tougher demands on their customers. Some banks are even identifying sectors they think are particularly under threat, and refusing requests for loans from workers in those areas.

Emirates NBD, the country's largest bank, was reported by Arabian Business yesterday as having sent a memo warning staff not to lend to expatriate staff working for nine Dubai-based finance and property companies. Emirates NBD denied the reports. "Emirates NBD denies the content and context of the recent media reports referring to the group stopping lending to expatriate employees of a number of real estate companies. Emirates NBD lending policies are refined routinely in line with business priorities, market dynamics and what preserves the interest of our shareholders and customers," the bank said in a statement.

It had been reported that in the internal memo dated Nov 6 from Amal al Serkal, the group head of retail credit at Emirates NBD, he said that "in view of the current market scenario, it has been decided to suspend retail credit facilities to expatriate employees working for the [below] mentioned employers, due to possible restructuring, lay-offs and job losses. Branches are advised not to grant retail facilities to the expatriate employees working with these organisations with immediate effect".

According to Ibrahim Sowaidan, a spokesman at Emirates NBD: "There are a lot of memos that get circulated internally that people make suggestions on and talk about. "This goes on among certain groups and processes, and they must have received something and didn't come back to us for comment. They must have put their hands on some internal communication, but there is no such policy." Bankers say they do not expect the Central Bank's injection fund to be used for initiating substantial new loans but rather to support commitments such as loans already processed and cushion against their liabilities, deposits and liquidity positions. Emirates NBD has used about 75 per cent of the limit it could lend to the property industry, Mr Sowaidan was quoted as saying by Bloomberg.

"Our exposure to the real estate market stands at a healthy 15.6 per cent of deposits, while the regulatory limit is 20 per cent," he told the agency. The bank this week increased the threshold for personal loans to a minimum monthly salary of Dh5,000 (US$1,361) from Dh3,000, he said. Other banks are introducing similar measures. The National Bank of Abu Dhabi (NBAD) has tightened its lending policies, but John Malouf, the general manager of consumer banking, said that the bank would not stop lending to expatriates.

For its home loans, it is seeking an increased downpayment from the borrower, demanding 25 per cent for properties in Abu Dhabi, up from 10 per cent previously. In Dubai, it now requires a downpayment of 50 per cent, while in the northern emirates, where the markets are just picking up, it requires potential buyers to provide at least 60 per cent as downpayment. Mr Malouf said NBAD had also become more stringent in extending personal credit. He said his bank was reacting to the availability of money and the rising cost of living in the country. "The liquidity crisis is affecting asset values and people's ability to repay," he said. "So we have had to tighten up a bit."

HSBC now requires at least 40 per cent downpayment for purchasing property in Abu Dhabi and between 30 to 40 per cent in Dubai. Only two months ago, banks were throwing themselves at consumers to take loans and extending financing up to 90 per cent or even more. "When I wanted to buy a villa three months back it was too expensive - now the downpayment demanded by the lenders is way too high," said Nadeem Siddique, a senior executive at a multinational firm in Dubai. He said that he had tried Amlak, Tamweel, HSBC and other lenders, but none had come up with a deal that met his requirements. "My question is, what are the banks doing with all that rescue money? Why has it not been used to free up the mortgage market?"

The sudden tightening of credit is worrying consumers and has made some wonder if they can still afford to stay in the country. "If I can't get a loan to pay my rent, that would be serious. I would probably go home if that happens," said Rob Phillips, an Australian who has lived in Abu Dhabi for two years. Rana Tariq, a loan officer at Royal Bank of Scotland, said the market was "confused" and estimated that since last month personal loans had declined by 50 per cent and credit card approvals by 30 per cent.

"Everyone is waiting to see what's going to happen in the market," he said. "We are telling people 'let us think, we want to take a closer look'." * additional reporting by Asa Fitch @Email:mjalili@thenational.ae skhan@thenational.ae