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UAE to be first Middle East country to witness ‘RuPay card’ launch during Modi’s visit



The UAE will be the first country in the Middle East to witness the launch of RuPay card, “an Indian indigenous equivalent of Mastercard or Visa,” during the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi this weekend, a top Indian diplomat told the Emirates News Agency, WAM.

“A Memorandum of Understanding, MoU, to establish a technology interface between the payment platforms in India and UAE, would be exchanged between the National Payments Corporation of India and UAE’s Mercury Payments Services. This will enable the RuPay card to be used at point-of-sale terminals across the UAE,” Navdeep Singh Suri, the Indian Ambassador to the UAE, said in an exclusive interview on Wednesday.

“The UAE is the largest and most vibrant business hub in the region. It hosts the largest Indian community, receives the largest number of Indian tourists and has the largest trade with India. By becoming the first country in the region to introduce the RuPay card, we expect that each of these elements of tourism, trade and the Indian diaspora will benefit,” he explained. India had already launched RuPay card in only two foreign countries – Singapore and Bhutan, the envoy said.

“We will have substantive bilateral discussions to further deepen our relationship across multiple sectors during the Prime Minister’s visit,” Suri said. Ahead of Modi’s visit, the Indian Embassy has completed establishing the system to issue India’s newly introduced 5-year multiple entry tourism and business visa for Emiratis. “We are required under our regulations to obtain biometric data of the Emirati applicants on the first occasion and I am happy to say that we have now established these systems across the BLS Service Centres in UAE [the Indian Embassy’s outsourced centres for passport and visa services],” the envoy revealed.

A commemorative stamp of Mahatma Gandhi that would be released on the occasion of his 150th birth anniversary during the Prime Minister’s visit, is another exceptional gesture by the UAE Government to acknowledge the role of Mahatma Gandhi in India’s freedom struggle and the power of his ideas globally, he explained.

Modi will receive the Zayed Medal, the UAE’s highest civilian award, during the visit. “We deeply appreciate the decision of the sagacious leadership of UAE [in this regard],” the ambassador said. The India-UAE Comprehensive Strategic Partnership developed during the past four years is expanding into areas like trade and investment, energy, defence and security, and connections between the youth. “We have witnessed a rapid increase in high-level exchanges and the establishment of a relationship of genuine trust and confidence. The close personal bond between Prime Minister Modi and His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, is not only an embodiment of this relationship but also its key driver,” the envoy explained.

In the economic front, the bilateral trade touched almost $60 billion last year with a fairly balanced profile of about $30 billion of exports and $30 billion of imports, he said. “On the investment side, we have already seen sizable inflows from India to UAE in free zones like Jebel Ali, Hamriyah Free Zone Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah Economic Zone and also in sectors ranging from manufacturing and real estate to trade and services. We have now started to observe a strong flow of investments from the UAE to India. These are particularly significant in areas such as energy, infrastructure, housing, highways, airports, logistics, food processing and the defence sector,” the diplomat said.

About the deep-rooted people-to-people links that go back many a century, the ambassador pointed out that an established Indian business community for almost 100 years in the UAE, blue-collar workers, and recent steady influx of highly trained and experienced Indian professionals have made huge contributions. “However, we cannot afford to be complacent. It is important that the historical people-to-people ties are nurtured amongst the younger generation in both our countries and I am pleased to say that youth exchanges have also been identified by the leadership of the UAE as a priority area,” he concluded.

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Restructuring plea on the burner as Lebanon’s Chances of Avoiding Default Dim




The central bank bought 3 trillion pounds ($2 billion) of Treasury bills from the government at 1%, well below market rates, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. It’s expected to buy half as much again at the same rate by the end of the year to reduce the government’s rising debt costs, the person said on condition of anonymity because the issue is sensitive.

News as sensitive as this go unnoticed int he market as it seems that a lot of dealings with Eurobonds have plummeted last month – all are on march maturities awarding their investors hot speculative money!!!

Some foreign holders of Lebanon’s Eurobonds are expressing support for a government debt restructuring as the clamor grows among local politicians to skip a payment due in weeks.

Lebanon’s cash-strapped authorities are struggling to decide what to do about a $1.2 billion Eurobond maturing in March but are leaning towards repayment for foreign holders and a swap for local investors, political and banking sources said. Lebanon, which has never defaulted on its hefty debt, is in the throes of a financial and economic crisis that has shattered confidence in banks and ignited protests against a political elite blamed for steering the country towards collapse.

A government source and two senior political sources said big differences remained over options: pay in full, ask local holders of the issue to swap for longer-dated notes delaying payment by at least 10 years, or simply not pay.

Two of those sources and three senior bankers said a swap would ease pressure on dwindling foreign currency reserves and buy time. Three sources said the government has not initiated any steps for a default scenario. At a private meeting days ago with government representatives, a number of foreign funds that own Lebanese sovereign bonds, including a $1.2 billion note due March 9, argued that the crisis-ridden country would be better off restructuring rather than paying its debt, said a person familiar with the matter, declining to identify the investors.

In a suggestion that the fallout can be contained, they said Lebanon’s bonds were already discounted on their balance sheets, according to the person, who asked not to be named because the information isn’t public. Most of Lebanon’s bonds maturing beyond this year trade at between 35 and 40 cents on the dollar. The March notes fell around 2 cents to 87 on Thursday, still above their low of 76 on Jan. 29.

Central bank Governor Riad Salameh has told officials including the new prime minister, Hassan Diab, that he is willing to pay the debt if instructed by the government, people familiar with the talks said. He’s already helped repay nearly $5 billion of bonds in the past year.

While Diab is in favor of meeting Lebanon’s debt obligations this year, according to a local media report, he hasn’t yet made a final decision.

Lebanon's debt may approach 200% of GDP in next years

The decision will come down to a choice of who should bear the cost of easing one of the world’s biggest debt burdens, estimated at over 150% of gross domestic product last year, as hardships mount after months of protests. Lebanon is enduring its worst financial crisis in decades, with the central bank rationing dollars and nationwide unrest over what many fear could be an imminent collapse.

Despite a spotless record of servicing international debt, consensus is fraying in Lebanon as almost $3.5 billion in Eurobond principal and interest payments come due by June.

Payment Options

Bankers say local lenders, which hold most of the country’s Eurobonds, favor a repayment to avoid blowing a hole in their balance sheets. The most recent payment of $1.5 billion, made by the central bank in November, was criticized by some local politicians who said Lebanon should instead use what’s left of its reserves on buying much-needed imports.

A group of lawmakers aligned with a majority in parliament is lobbying the government to seek technical assistance from international institutions before making a final decision. They’re trying to convince the premier and others that Lebanon risks a crisis and violence similar to Venezuela, which defaulted on its debts in 2017.

Legislators present at a committee meeting last week almost unanimously agreed — albeit in private conversation — that the government shouldn’t pay, a lawmaker said. The debate is playing out against a dire backdrop, with Lebanon’s reserves stretched thin and the economy succumbing to a recession as currency shortages worsen.

An ex-economy minister, Nasser Saidi, has called for a restructuring of public debt, while also saying Lebanon would need a bailout of as much as $25 billion that could require support of the International Monetary Fund. Former Minister of State for Information Technology Adel Afiouni has said paying off the March bond would be “wrong.”

-Paying #March20 EBs from reserves is WRONG
-We don’t earn markets’ trust by paying EBs from reserves
-We earn markets’ trust & support with credible debt sustainability & financial plan 
-Restructuring is not a stigma
-Orderly restructuring is the fair & courageous decision
(1)— Adel Afiouni (@adelafiouni) February 5, 2020

The decision rests with the government, formed last month with the backing of Lebanon’s most powerful military force, the pro-Iranian Hezbollah, and its allies. “The issue should be finalized next week,” a Hezbollah Member of Parliament, Ali Fayyad, said in an interview in Beirut. “We need to look at all the options and study their impact and there should be a conclusive plan that doesn’t only focus on paying or not paying but also a larger plan.”

The central bank’s net foreign-currency holdings are sufficient to pay for the near-term import bill and debt redemptions, while local lenders have enough in reserve to cover deposit outflows, according to Morgan Stanley.

“What is more important to watch is the political sentiment on the trade-off of using reserves to cover debt servicing versus imports,” Jaiparan Khurana, a London-based strategist at Morgan Stanley, said in a report. “Market focus should remain on the cabinet decision.” A repayment of Eurobonds may entail a controversial proposal by the central bank to get local holders of the March notes to swap into longer-dated instruments and pay foreign creditors. Salameh has told bankers that a foreign fund was interested in buying the bonds coming due next month if Lebanon proceeds with the swap.

Bonds Up

Lebanon needs to pay about about $3.5 billionthis quarter on Eurobonds

Around a third of Lebanon’s roughly $30 billion of Eurobonds are held by outside investors, with the rest owned by the central bank and local lenders, according to Oxford Economics. Foreigners owned about 40% of the March bond in early December.

Lebanese banks also have billions of dollars of foreign-currency deposits tied up at the central bank.

Lebanese lenders and the government have already agreed on a plan to relieve some of the debt this year. Bankers who met with the new finance minister earlier this week agreed to lower interest rates they get on local-currency sovereign bonds, a person who attended the meeting said.

The central bank also said it would waive interest payments on the government’s local debt this year. Authorities want to use the saved funds, amounting to about 2.9 trillion pounds ($1.9 billion), to reduce the budget deficit. A plan to impose a one-time tax on banks’ profit to generate $400 million fell through.

…The deal helps offset higher interest rates incurred by the Finance Ministry, which last month sold $3 billion in Eurobonds to the central bank at as much as 12

Lebanon's default risk has surged since protests broke out in October

It’s the latest sign of how the government, effectively shut out of bond markets amid a crippling political crisis, is increasingly relying on the central bank to prevent a financial meltdown. The country has been without a functioning government since Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned in late October in the face of mass protests against corruption and inequality

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Waking Up To The Future Of Banking: UAE Fintech Startups Take On The Challenge Of Financial Inclusion



When Bill Gates famously said “banking is necessary, banks are not,” Saad Ansari paid attention.

The founder and CEO of Xpence set out to innovate for financial inclusion to solve the biggest barrier facing startups in the UAE today: setting up a bank account.

Entrepreneurs in the UAE highlight banking services, and in particular the obstacles to opening a bank account, as their number 1 challenge according to entrepreneurship advocacy white paper released by Dubai Chamber and Roland Berger in 2018.

To read more click

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Abu Dhabi raises $10bln with triple-tranche bond



Abu Dhabi has issued $3bln in five-year bonds, $3bln in 10-year and $4bln in 30-year notes

The government of Abu Dhabi has sold $10 billion in bonds, its first debt issuance in two years, which attracted hefty demand as the oil-rich emirate takes advantage of low rates to partly offset the impact of falling oil prices on state coffers. Abu Dhabi has issued $3 billion in five-year bonds, $3 billion in 10-year and $4 billion in 30-year notes, according to a document issued by one of the banks leading the deal and seen by Reuters. Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), has the biggest hydrocarbon reserves among the UAE’s seven emirates and its fiscal position is among the strongest in the region.

It has a rating of Aa2 by rating agency Moody’s, AA by S&P and AA by Fitch, with stable outlooks assigned by all three rating agencies. BNP Paribas, Citigroup, First Abu Dhabi Bank, HSBC, JP Morgan and MUFG were mandated as joint lead managers and joint bookrunners for the 144A Reg S senior unsecured bonds, according to the document.

A 144A lets a non-U.S. issuer tap the U.S. market without registering on a U.S. exchange, while a Regulation S offering is a bond issued in the Eurobond market for international investors,

Abu Dhabi started marketing the five-year notes at around 80 basis points over U.S. treasuries, the 10-year at around 100 bps over the same benchmark, and the 30-year at around 125 bps over. High demand – in excess of $19 billion – meant the emirate was able to reduce those spreads by 15 basis points across all the tranches during the marketing process on Monday.

Reuters, citing sources, had reported earlier this month that Abu Dhabi was planning to issue U.S. dollar-denominated bonds this year. The public debt issuance is the emirate’s first since 2017.

Governments in the Gulf Cooperation Council region have borrowed billions of dollars globally over the past few years to refill state coffers hit by lower oil prices. The UAE central bank on Sunday said the country’s economy is expected to grow 2.4% in 2019, driven by faster growth in the oil sector, above 1.7% in 2018.

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GCC banks rapidly adopt the latest technology in retail banking, says S&P Global



According to S&P Global, a ratings agency, the Financial institutions of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are rapidly adapting to the changing customer preferences by incorporating advanced technologies in retail banking systems. This is due to an increasing pressure from the customers for the provision of better services.

In a statement that came on the weekend, S&P Global said that the adoption of facial and voice recognition tools, big data, and the analytics of artificial intelligence can play a crucial role in the provision of more efficient and cost-effective banking services to the customers.

S&P Global added that recent changes in banking operations are a result of the changing landscape of customer preferences rather than the pressure of regulatory authorities.

According to Mohamed Damak, S&P Global Ratings Credit Analyst, the regulatory risk is not high as the policymakers are well-aware of the fact that local banking systems are very important to the region and there is now a need to keep it safe from the unregulated and troublesome competition.

Damak also said that the risks attached to the banking systems will remain low for the next two years as well, despite the continuously evolving customer preferences, as regulators keep protecting the banks and only a small share of present activity is at risk.

The banking areas affected by the technological changes include foreign currency exchange, money transfer, and payment services.

FinTech companies focusing on making fast and cost-effective money transfers are capable of disrupting the operations of banks and GCC exchange houses. The regulatory authorities are now also encouraging the collaboration of banks with FinTech companies, which will allow FinTech companies to test new technologies within an appropriate regulatory environment.

The World Bank figures showed that expats in Gulf countries sent over about Dh429bn ($119.3 billion) back to their home countries, including Pakistan, India, Philippines, and Egypt.

Almost 40% of the GCC population is under 30 years old and the younger population is more inclined towards digital technologies, which is creating significant demand for technological advancement in retail banking. Some banks have already started to move towards digital financial operations, such as Dubai-based Mashreqbank which is launching digital banks called neobanks.

According to S&P Global, the online banking penetration has reached up to 85% in Saudi banks and 92% in UAE banks. For some banks, shifting towards digital financial operations has become a high priority. According to the annual report of the UAE Banks’ Federation, the number of bank branches in the region fell by 31 to 823 last year, which clearly indicates that the GCC banks are shifting towards alternative channels for transactions and are adopting tech better.

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Soft Bank Vision Fund 2 to receive investment from Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala



Mubadala Investment Company, an Abu Dhabi owned state fund, is looking to invest in SoftBank Group’s Vision Fund 2 in fall 2019. The Fund will be focusing on technology projects.

The Japanese group is aiming to attract big investment funds including the Public Investment Fund in Saudi Arabia and Mubadala in the UAE for its Vision Fund 2.

The first Vision fund amassed $100 billion with the Public Investment Fund and Mubadala contributing to nearly two thirds to the fund. Mubadala reportedly contributed $15 billion, whilst Public Investment Fund contributed $45 billion.

Talks for the investment in the second fund have been in place for months and currently, the Japanese investment group has secured pledges for $108 billion. Once again, Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia are poised to be the leading financiers of the project. The hefty sums keep mounting from Saudi Arabia as the Kingdom reinforces its commitment to diversify from its heavy reliance on oil as part of Vision 2030.

The healthy returns from the first fund have motivated Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia to recommit investments to Vision Fund 2. Last month, Chief Executive Masayoshi Son said that the key investors from the first fund, Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia were showing ‘high interest’ in taking a bigger piece of the pie for the second fund and in this regard, officials representing key stakeholders have been meeting over the past few months to discuss the particulars of the investment.

Reliable details about the contributions by each party have yet to be disclosed from the ensuing discussions. Brian Lott, spokesman for Mubadala said that the talks are ongoing between Mubadala and SoftBank and soon a conclusion on the investment assessment will be drawn forth. It is noteworthy that Mubadala continues to discuss its potential investment with SoftBank independent of the Public Investment Fund’s participation.

The recent investment trends continue to suggest that Abu Dhabi is unrelenting on its commitment to invest big bucks in information technology and innovation. These key areas are at the heart of the country’s economic diversification strategy.

It is anticipated that SoftBank will commit approximately $38 billion into Vision Fund 2. It has signed a memorandum of understanding with various technology giants including Apple and Taiwan’s Foxconn. Many other potential Japanese banks and technology groups have also shown keen interest and have been actively pursuing SoftBank for talks to strike a deal for potential investment.

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UAE banking sector assets surge to $782bln



In the first seven months of 2019, UAE banks’ saving account balances hit a record of circa $45.17bln

The UAE banking sector maintained its position as the largest in the Arab world with the combined assets of all banks growing 6.5 per cent to Dh2.87 trillion in 2018 as the amount of credit extended grew five per cent to Dh1.66 trillion, according to the UAE Banks Federation.

“As the sector embraces new initiatives and developments, and with increased regulation and compliance requirements, prospects for 2019 and beyond appear promising,” UBF said in a statement on Wednesday.

In its annual report, the UBF shed light on the its significant progress and achievements of the UAE banking sector. While the total UAE bank deposits increased eight per cent to Dh1.76 trillion last year, deposits of residents grew seven per cent to Dh1.54 trillion as government deposits surged 16 per cent to Dh290 billion. Deposits from government-related entities increased eight per cent to Dh207 billion, while private sector growth went up by one per cent to Dh1.01 trillion, said the report.

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WeWork competitor Knotel banks $400M, reaches $1B valuation



Enterprise workspace provider Knotel has banked $400 million in a round led by Wafra, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Kuwait’s Public Institution for Social Security. Tokyo-based Mori Trus, Itochu and Mercuria joined Norwest Venture Partners, Newmark Knight FrankBloomberg Beta and Rocket Internet in contributing to the round. The fundraise values Knotel at more than $1 billion.

Founded in 2016 and based in New York, the company provides over 4 million square feet of workspace in more than 200 cities. Knotel did not immediately respond to PitchBook’s request for comment. The funding announcement follows reports in May that the company was seeking an undisclosed amount of funds at a $1.5 billion valuation, with Singapore’s GIC Private Ltd.possibly participating. GIC Private appears to be largely absent in Wednesday’s announcement, however.

Knotel reportedly holds big names such as StarbucksMicrosoftOracle and AT&T as clients. It has cumulatively raised about $560 million in equity funding. The company will pursue an entrance into Asian cities including Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing and Hyderabad, as well as US cities including Houston, Dallas, Chicago and Atlanta, according to Bloomberg. In addition to its global expansion plans, the company plans to invest in Baya, an internal blockchain-based software platform used to analyze potential acquisition opportunities, and Geometry, a furniture rental subscription service for the company’s clients.

Competing and ballooning

As WeWork (aka The We Company) has gained attention on its journey to the public markets, Knotel has quietly been working to compete with the former. Both companies lease vacant office space and market it with added value via interior design, furnishing and real estate administrative services.

Unlike WeWork, Knotel targets companies needing a private, full-service alternative to traditional lengthy commercial lease periods. WeWork focuses on individuals and small teams interested in shared workspace using a membership-based business model, although it does offer larger, dedicated spaces geared toward enterprise clients.

Both workspace providers have received significant investments from firms based in Tokyo and the Middle East. Knotel’s funnel of funds from firms in Japan and Kuwait appears to be somewhat of an off-brand of WeWork’s funding pool from Tokyo-based SoftBank and, indirectly, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Investment Company.

Ultimately, it remains to be seen how such VC-backed workspace providers will justify ballooning valuations and claims of being “tech” companies versus real estate companies. In comparison, Luxembourg-based International Workplace Group holds a market cap of £3.71 billion (about $4.5 billion), as of August 21, while offering about 547,344 workstations at the end of 2018. In 2Q 2019, IWG booked a £294.9 million (about $357.69 million) profit after tax by leasing 58.8 million square feet across 3,334 locations worldwide, with clients such as Google, Nike and Nokia.

WeWork, by comparison, lost $904.65 million in 1H 2019. It similarly reports a workstation capacity of 604,000 as of June 30 (up from 466,000 at the end of 2018) across 528 locations. Perhaps owing to its $47 billion valuation as of January is its past growth rate in excess of 100% YoY, although past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results as the company gradually matures.

In comparison to established but lesser-known competitors such as IWG, Knotel and the highly unprofitable WeWork seem to be scoring valuations based on hype and hope, as has been commonly seen in 2019’s IPO frenzy.

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UAE banks’ exposure to real estate declines



According to Central Bank data, the growth of residential mortgage loans remained strong at 9.2 per cent during the year
Growth in the UAE banking sector’s loan exposure to the real estate sector nearly halved to 8.5 per cent last year, compared to 18.1 per cent in the previous year, due to a persistent decline in property prices as well as a reduction in the number of project launches. According to the UAE Central Bank’s Financial Stability Report 2018, the outstanding balance of real estate loans amounted to Dh379 billion at the end of 2018, which was slightly above 20 per cent of total loans. Bank lending to the real estate sector (including both residential and commercial real estate) grew at 18.1 per cent in 2017 as against 10.3 per cent in 2016.

“The asset quality of the commercial and residential real estate loans remained stable during 2018, while it deteriorated for the construction sector,” the report said.

Kamal Al Ansari, head of debt advisory services at JLL Mena, said that the UAE bank loan exposure to the real estate sector grew at a more moderate pace during 2018 due to fewer new real estate projects being launched in the country. Developers launched 25 per cent fewer projects in 2018 than in 2017. “In addition, investor sentiment is currently low due to a sluggish real estate market, with investors putting their decision to purchase on hold, expecting the market to drop further. This, in turn, is reducing the number of investors looking for loans, eventually impacting banks’ exposure to real estate,” Al Ansari added. Late last year, the Central Bank announced its decision to remove the 20 per cent cap on real estate loans, in line with the UAE government’s vision to remove certain road-blocks to stimulate the overall economic growth.

“We see this as an opportunity as removing the cap will encourage banks to lend seamlessly and help in overcoming challenges presented by the current real estate market. It will also enable lenders to deploy additional capital to new and existing customers,” Al Ansari added.

Dr. Adnan Chilwan, CEO of Dubai Islamic Bank (DIB), ruled out pressure on the Shariah-compliant bank’s real estate portfolio during a webcast last week.

“Over the last five years or so, we have managed our real estate book very well. We are not heavily focused on [real estate] so the book has reduced to 19 per cent at the end of last year. We are close to 20 per cent in the first six months of 2019 and each of these loans in the real estate portfolio are performing well… Whatever happened about softening of real estate over the last 24 months, we have not seen any impact on our books. But in certain cases the cash needs to be reassessed and make sure that they match repayment capacity,” Chilwan said.

He said DIB’s real estate portfolio is pretty healthy despite certain softening. “In a nutshell, we are not seeing any early signs of warning as far as our real estate portfolio is concerned.”Firas Al Msaddi, CEO and executive chairman of Fm Properties, said that the vast majority of people feel that if the banks are cautious, then they have to be more cautious.

“It definitely creates a level of uncertainty in the market, in the sense that the banks do their homework very well and if banks are reducing exposure that means we have to think twice now before entering the market. Of course, as a result of impacting the purchase power, the demand, it always results in a slower trend of market transactions,” Al Msaddi said.

“On the good side, we cannot undermine the fact that it’s good that banks are cautious and it is good that the banks are not overly exposed to the real estate. Because at the end of the day, when they have over exposure on their balance sheet for real estate, then if anything happens, if there is any slowdown that will magnify the problem in the market,” he added.

According to Central Bank data, the growth of residential mortgage loans remained strong at 9.2 per cent during the year. Among other sectors, retail lending remained stagnant during 2018 declining by 0.1 per cent, while personal loans declined 1.0 per cent, credit card loans fell 0.6 per cent and car loans plunged 13.4 per cent. The wholesale corporate lending portfolio combines bank lending to the private corporate sector, government related corporate entities (GREs), small and medium enterprises (SMEs), and high-net-worth individuals (HNIs). Bank lending to private corporate sector was the most dynamic within wholesale lending throughout 2018 growing by 10.2 per cent. Conversely, lending to the GREs and SMEs contracted 3.2 per cent and 2.6 per cent, respectively.

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