PETALING JAYA: For the first time since the Covid-19 outbreak, banks in Malaysia have been more willing to lend as the appetite for loans improved across households and businesses. With the banking system being the bedrock of the economy, increased lending activities indicate that the recovery of the Malaysian economy is well underway, after facing the worst recession since the 1998 financial crisis. Amid a low interest rate environment, it appears that businesses have once again begun to invest while households are spending on big-ticket items such as cars and properties. According to Bank Negara governor Datuk Nor Shamsiah Mohd Yunus, business loan disbursements rose to RM206.2bil in the fourth quarter of 2020, exceeding the 2017-2019 quarterly average of RM196.7bil. In the previous third quarter, the value of business loan disbursements stood lower at RM182.4bil. In fact, Nor Shamsiah said yesterday that financing activities for the small and medium enterprises (SMEs) have returned to pre-Covid-19 levels, driven by banks’ own funds. “Disbursements by banks and development financial institutions gradually returned to average levels after the movement control order (MCO), reaching RM73.3bil in the fourth quarter of 2020. “For the year 2020, over 95% of the new loans disbursed by the banks were sourced from own funds, with Bank Negara’s funds for SMEs serving as a supplement, ” she said. Nor Shamsiah, who spoke during the release of Malaysia’s fourth quarter gross domestic product (GDP) results, pointed out that another RM6.4bil remains available under the central bank’s funds for SMEs. As for the households, loan disbursements inched up to RM99.5bil in the fourth quarter as compared to RM89.2bil quarterly average in 2017-2019. In the third quarter of 2020, household loan disbursements were reported at RM99.1bil. “Net financing to the private sector continued to expand at 4.4% on an annual basis. “Total outstanding loans grew by 3.7%, supported by continued growth in the household and business segments, ” according to Bank Negara. Alliance Bank chief economist Manokaran Mottain said that lending and financing activities would likely improve further in 2021.CLICK TO ENLARGE “Loan disbursements momentum on a year-on-year (y-o-y) basis should pick up, especially from the second quarter onwards, owing to last year’s low base. “In addition, the current MCO is less restrictive than the one we had last year, hence business and consumer sentiment is not affected as severely, ” he said. Meanwhile, Socio-Economic Research Centre (SERC) executive director Lee Heng Guie believes that continued improvement in lending activities, particularly for businesses, will be unsynchronised across sectors. “We would be able to see stronger growth in sectors such as electrical and electronics, other segments of manufacturing, export-based businesses as well as those involved in e-commerce. “However, sectors that have been significantly affected by the movement restrictions such as tourism would take a longer time to see improvement in lending activities.” Lee said. Lee added that any further improvement in borrowings would largely depend on how fast the economy returns to positive growth amid a nationwide vaccination programme. The government has previously forecast the domestic economy to expand by 6.5% to 7.5% in 2021. The official target was announced in November last year during the tabling of Budget 2021, well before the current MCO was announced. Factoring in the impact of the latest MCO that began on Jan 13, Manokaran told StarBiz that the economy may grow at a slower pace of 5.3% than previously projected by the government. However, he acknowledged that the country’s economic recovery remains on track. Nor Shamsiah has not confirmed whether the GDP growth forecast for 2021 may be revised lower, although she agrees that resurgence in cases and the containment measures will weigh on near-term growth. Nevertheless, she is positive that the economic growth will rebound going into 2021, supported by a pick up in global demand and normalisation in domestic economic activities. “Policy measures and assistance will continue to support both businesses and households. “Vaccine rollout starting this month, with herd immunity targeted by early-2022, will lift sentiments and growth, ” she said. Nor Shamsiah announced yesterday that Malaysia’s GDP in the fourth quarter of 2020 shrank by 3.4%, marking a bigger contraction than the 2.6% decline registered in the third quarter of 2020. Except for manufacturing, all economic sectors continued to record negative growth in the fourth quarter of 2020. Construction as well as mining and quarrying were the most affected sectors with double-digit growth contractions of 13.9% and 10.6%, respectively. On the expenditure side, moderating private consumption and public investment activities weighed on domestic demand. However, looking at the monthly GDP performance, Bank Negara data shows that economic contractions in October, November and December 2020 have narrowed sharply. In December 2020, the economy declined by 1.7% y-o-y as compared to 4.7% in October and 4% in November. For 2020 as a whole, the full-year GDP shrank by 5.6%, the biggest decline since 7.4% in 1998. Nor Shamsiah expects the country’s gross exports to expand in 2021. This will be supported by the growth rebound of Malaysia’s major trade partners, rising demand for semiconductors as well as Malaysia’s export orders that have remained intact. She also said that an expected pick-up in investment and production activities would provide support to growth in 2021. Malaysia registered a headline deflation of 1.2% in 2020 and a core inflation inflation of 1.1%. Looking ahead into 2021, Bank Negara expects headline inflation to average higher, primarily due to higher projected global oil prices.
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