OUTSTANDING LOANS disbursed by universal and commercial banks rose by 12.9% in March, faster than the downward-revised 12% pace in February, according to data from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP).

Inclusive of reverse repurchase agreements, lending rose by 14%, quicker than the upward-revised 11.3% logged in the prior month.

Data showed the rise in production loans, which made up 87.6% of the total credit, continued to be the main driver of growth. Lending to the sector grew quicker at a pace of 12% from the 9.4% seen in February.

The sustained increase in production loans is attributable to an increase in credit for real estate activities (21.8%); information and communication (20.8%); financial and insurance activities (17.2%); wholesale and retail trade, repair of motor vehicles and motorcycles (6.8%); and electricity, gas, steam and air-conditioning supply (7.7%).

Other sectors also saw rise in loans except for manufacturing (-0.4%) and mining and quarrying (-5.3%), the BSP said.

On the other hand, growth of loans disbursed for households eased to 22.9% from the upward-revised 37.7% logged in February. This was mainly due to the slower expansion in credit card and motor vehicle loans during the month.

UnionBank of the Philippines, Inc. Chief Economist Ruben Carlo O. Asuncion attributed the pickup in lending to the market’s reaction after the easing moves done by the central bank since 2019.

“Since last year, we know that the BSP has been on an easing stance. RRP (reverse repurchase rate) cuts were made including other liquidity measures such as the RRR reduction. The market has been responding and liquidity in the market has been ample and growing,” Mr. Asuncion said in an e-mail.

In 2019, the BSP slashed rates by a total of 75 basis points (bps) before opting for a pause. By yearend, the overnight reverse repurchase rate was at four percent while lending and deposit rates were at 4.5% and 3.5%, respectively.

Meanwhile, reserve requirement ratios (RRR) were slashed by a total of 400 bps last year, which reduced the RRR of big banks as well as thrift and rural banks to 14%, four percent, and three percent as of end-2019.

BSP Governor Benjamin E. Diokno has said monetary policy tends to work with a lag of about three to nine months.

For this year, the BSP has been aggressive as it seeks to curtail the impact of the virus on the economy. It has cut rates by a total of 125 bps thus far which reduced overnight reverse repurchase, deposit and lending rates to record lows of 2.75%, 3.25% and 2.25%, respectively.

The BSP has likewise reduced RRR of universal and commercial banks by another 200 bps to 12%.

In the coming months, the lockdown measures may dent lending growth, according to Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. Chief Economist Michael L. Ricafort.

“Bank loans could start to slow down in April and May 2020 and could even potentially contract in Q2 2020 together with the broader economy, depending on how long the lockdown would last,” Mr. Ricafort said. — L.W.T. Noble