Middle East central banks pledge $47 billion to contain coronavirus fallout

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Three of the biggest Arab economies pledged almost $47 billion in stimulus to limit the economic damage of the coronavirus outbreak, joining a global effort meant to soothe markets and salvage growth.

Saudi Arabia’s central bank unveiled a 50-billion riyal ($13.3 billion) package to support private businesses, soon after its counterpart in the United Arab Emirates announced a 100-billion dirham ($27.2 billion) program to assist its lenders. Egypt said it will allocate 100 billion pounds ($6.4 billion) to combat the coronavirus.

Timed before the start of the work week in much of the Middle East on Sunday, policy makers are acting as many of the economies in the region are at risk of paralysis, with most countries shutting tourist attractions, closing schools and universities, and limiting public events. The UAE also stopped issuing visas and halted flights to Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey.

Compounding the disruptions to trade and tourism from the coronavirus, the crash in oil prices is also crippling the economies in the energy-rich Persian Gulf.

Central banks around the world have unveiled emergency stimulus packages as the pandemic forces authorities to restrict international travel and even go into full lockdown to slow the spread and prevent it from overwhelming health services. Cases have risen to more than 140,000 worldwide, with deaths topping 5,200.

Days of panic last week prompted unprecedented joined-up fiscal and monetary action by the UK, a package of targeted aid by the European Central Bank, stimulus from the People’s Bank of China, an easing pledge from the Bank of Japan, and more firefighting by the US Federal Reserve.

The UAE’s Targeted Economic Support Scheme includes a 50-billion dirham aid package for banks in the country through collateralized, zero-interest loans. Banks will also be allowed to free up capital buffers, which will make another 50 billion dirhams in liquidity available to lenders.

UAE banks are “adequately capitalized and banks maintain significant voluntary capital buffers,” the regulator said in a statement. “The purpose of the targeted scheme is to facilitate provision of temporary relief from the payments of principal and interest on outstanding loans for all affected private sector companies and retail customers in the UAE.”

Saudi Arabia’s central bank said it’s preparing funding to support private businesses, which includes 30 billion riyals available to banks and financing companies in return for deferring small and medium-size businesses’ loans.

The Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority, as the central bank is known, said the kingdom’s banking sector is still seeing “good performance indicators.”

UAE regulators reiterated the long-standing peg of the country’s currency to the US dollar, saying that the oil-rich nation’s “ample reserves” of 405 billion dirhams as of March 10 “are adequate to safeguard the stability of the national currency.” The central bank said the measures, effective immediately, are aimed at protecting corporate and retail customers affected by the virus.

Days earlier, Iran asked the International Monetary Fund for $5 billion to help it manage the outbreak. Iran is the third-worst hit country after China and Italy

Key highlights:

• The Saudi package will bring 13.2 billion riyals in loans to small and medium-sized enterprises, provided through banks. The businesses will be also supported through a 6 billion-riyal loan guarantee program.
• In the UAE, the measures aim to boost lending capacity and support the country’s economy
• UAE banks to be allowed to use as much as 60 percent of their capital conservation buffer while those deemed “systematically important” will be able utilize their entire buffer.
• The UAE central bank raised the loan-to-value ratios related to mortgage loans taken by first-time home owners in the hope of making homes more affordable. It will also revise limits on banks’ maximum exposure to real estate, allowing their exposure to the sector to increase up to 30 percent from 20 percent currently as long as they have additional capital.

Read more:

Global 2020 oil demand ‘far into negative’ amid Trump coronavirus emergency

Coronavirus: Saudi Central Bank announces $13 bln financing package

Coronavirus: UAE Central Bank announces $27.22 bln fiscal support scheme

Here’s how central banks responded to the coronavirus this week as markets dived

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