FOREIGN currency loans granted by Philippine banks rose in the first quarter of 2019 as borrowers sought working capital and funds for plant and equipment, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) said.

Loans issued by the banks’ foreign currency deposit units (FCDUs) amounted to $16.8 billion at the end of March 2019, up 2.7% from a year earlier. They also rose 1.3% from a quarter earlier.

“Loan growth may be attributed to the borrowing firms’ higher working capital requirements as well as increased investment in plant or equipment,” the BSP said in a statement Friday.

The central bank added that loan disbursements grew faster than principal payments.

Some 24.3% of the foreign debt was obtained by firms in the towing, tanker, trucking and forwarding business, the BSP said. This was followed by merchandise and service exporters (18%); public utility firms (8.7%); and producers or manufacturers including oil companies (3.9%).

Gross disbursements totaled $15.7 billion in the first quarter of 2019, up 0.64% from a year earlier.

Some 75.8% of outstanding foreign currency loans had medium to long-term maturities while 24.2% came with repayment periods of below one year, or about $4.074 billion, data showed.

FCDU deposit liabilities amounted to $40 billion, up 4.1% from a year earlier. It also rose 0.2% from a quarter earlier.

The BSP said 97.4% of the deposits were held by residents.

“These essentially constitute an additional buffer to the country’s gross international reserves,” the BSP said. — Reicelene Joy N. Ignacio