DUBAI: The COVID-19 pandemic, lower oil prices, and continued pressure on the real estate sector have increased risks for UAE banks, S&P Global Ratings said in a report on Sunday.
It expects the sector’s problem loans to increase further once current regulatory forbearance measures are lifted and banks start to account for the impact of the economic shock. However the process is expected to be gradual, minimizing the overall impact.
After the pandemic started, the UAE Central Bank (CBUAE) implemented a Targeted Economic Support Scheme (TESS), which helped ease the pressure on corporate issuers and small and mid-size enterprises, S&P said. But it did not reduce credit risk on the banking system’s balance sheet.
“The UAE has a wealthy economy with strong fiscal and external positions. The strength of the government’s net asset position has helped counteract the negative impact of lower oil prices on economic growth since late 2015,” S&P said in the report authored by credit analysts Puneet Tuli and Mohamed Damak.
It said that the pandemic has presented a new challenge to the economy and real estate sector.
S&P estimates the banking system’s total exposure to the real estate and construction sectors stood at 28 percent as of year-end 2020, assuming that one-third of personal loans for consumption purposes are channeled to real estate.
Residential real estate prices have declined more than 40 percent since the peak in the second-quarter 2014.
The credit ratings agency expects prices to remain under pressure in 2021.
Another 20 percent of the banking sector’s total lending covered sectors such as trade, transport,storage, communication, and personal loans for business purposes at year-end 2020.
A portion of these loans are at risk, which in addition to stress in real estate may lead to increased credit losses for UAE banks, it said.