(MENAFN - Khaleej Times) UAE banks' lending of personal loans to residents declined in the first quarter of 2019 by 0.9 per cent on year-on-year basis and 1.2 per cent quarter-on-quarter, due to weak consumer demand and soft household sentiment.
According to the Central Bank of the UAE's first-quarter data, personal loans to residents dropped to Dh333.5 billion in the January-March quarter compared to Dh336.5 billion in same period last year. Year-on-year gross credit rose 4.2 per cent to Dh1.675 trillion from Dh1.608 trillion.
Monica Malik, chief economist at Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, said the data for first quarter suggests overall soft momentum in new loan growth.
"We highlight some caution on the loan growth outlook in the second quarter with the earlier start of the holy month of Ramadan in 2019... nevertheless, the weak consumer demand environment is continuing to temper private sector credit growth, with retail credit growth contracting by 0.9 per cent on a month-on-month basis in March and down 1.2 per cent year-to-date," Malik said in an ADCB note.
"The first-quarter credit data reflects the ongoing weak consumer demand environment and soft household sentiment. Ongoing uncertainties over the labour market was likely a key factor, with no new fiscal reforms implemented. The government and government-related entities sectors are leading the loan growth, likely reflecting in part some pickup in investment activity," she said.
The central bank's first-quarter 2019 survey results suggested an increase in demand appetite for business loans.
Demand for personal loans in aggregate has recovered and moved into the positive territory. Such an increase was attributable to the strengthening demand in Dubai and the Northern Emirates.
In terms of outlook for the June quarter, demand appetite for business and personal loans were expected to increase.
Total bank deposits also grew 5.2 per cent to Dh1.748 trillion compared to Dh1.662 trillion.
In addition, the number of local banks' branches fell from 761 in March 2018 to 733 in March this year. Foreign banks' branches, meanwhile, decreased from 77 branches at the end of March 2018 to 75 branches during the same period in 2019.
The reductions in banks' branches, electronic banking service units and cash offices reflect the increasing trend of mobile banking, online banking and ease in the use of automated teller machines.
The UAE banking sector is undergoing a consolidation phase, hence resulting in less number of branches and workforce in the country.
Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair, chairman of the UAE Banking Federation and CEO of Mashreq Group, recently told the media that the bank will close half of its branches - 25 branches - in the UAE this year and convert them into digital branches.