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UAE, Saudi central banks roll out $40 billion stimulus for virus-hit economies

By Davide Barbuscia and Stephen Kalin
People wear protective masks, following an outbreak of coronavirus, as they walk at Global Village in Dubai

By Davide Barbuscia and Stephen Kalin

DUBAI/RIYADH (Reuters) - The central banks of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia, the two largest Arab economies, on Saturday announced stimulus plans worth a combined $40 billion to ease the impact of the coronavirus outbreak in their respective countries.

The UAE regulator plans to support banks and businesses in the country, where the outbreak is affecting major economic sectors such as tourism and transport, with a 100 billion dirham ($27 billion) economic plan, it said on Saturday.

In a separate statement, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority said it had prepared a 50 billion riyal (10.9 billion pounds) package to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) cope with the economic impacts of coronavirus.

The disease has so far infected 85 people in the UAE and 105 in Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi funding aims to grant SMEs six-month deferrals on bank payments, concessional financing and exemptions from the costs of a loan guarantee programme, SAMA said.

Concerts, sporting events and industry conferences have been cancelled or postponed in the past few weeks in the UAE to contain the spreading of the new coronavirus.

In Dubai, the Middle East's trade, finance, tourism and transportation hub, some businesses have started to feel the pain from the global travel slowdown caused by the outbreak.

Saudi Arabia, which has already suspended the Umrah pilgrimage and locked down its eastern Qatif region where many infections are located, plans to halt all international flights for two weeks from Sunday.

The UAE central bank said it will provide 50 billion dirhams through collateralised loans at zero cost to all banks operating in the UAE while an additional 50 billion dirhams will be freed up from lenders’ capital buffers.

"The CBUAE is allowing banks to free-up their regulatory capital buffers to boost lending capacity and support the UAE economy," it said in a statement.

It said the scheme offers banks relief for up to six months from the payments of principal and interest on outstanding loans for affected private sector companies and retail customers.


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Adding to a likely economic slowdown caused by the virus, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are also expected to face wider fiscal deficits this year because of lower oil prices, due to an oil price war between Riyadh and Moscow.

The Gulf states' currencies, which are pegged to the U.S. dollar, weakened in the forwards market last week.

The UAE regulator said on Saturday it maintained its commitment to the peg for the dirham, and said foreign currency reserves amounting to 405 billion dirhams as of March 10 were "adequate" to safeguard the stability of the currency.

Other measures introduced by the UAE central bank on Saturday include reducing by 15-25% the amount of capital banks have to hold for loans to SMEs, and better terms for first-time home buyers.

Importantly for the local real estate sector - which has been struggling in Dubai for the past decade - banks will be allowed to increase their exposure to real estate loans.

"When the exposure reaches 20% of the banks' loan portfolio (measured by risk-weighted assets), banks will be allowed to increase it to 30%, but will be required to hold more capital," it said.

The central bank also introduced regulations which reduce banking fees for small companies.

The Dubai and Abu Dhabi stock exchange indices dropped last week amid coronavirus concerns and because of tumbling oil prices.

To contain volatility in the markets, the central bank said it plans to issue guidelines on margin calls, asking banks to request additional collateral before liquidating stocks in the event of a market downfall.


(Additional reporting by Hesham Abdul Khalek; Editing by Edmund Blair, William Maclean, Mike Harrison and James Drummond)