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Saudi Arabia: Private sector credit growth slowed in March

Khatija Haque - Head of Research & Chief Economist
Daniel Richards - MENA Economist
Published Date: 02 May 2023


Private sector credit growth slowed in March

Private sector credit growth in Saudi Arabia rose 1.4% m/m in March, from 0.9% m/m in March. The annual growth rate was 10.3% y/y, the slowest since February 2020 just prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. Private sector credit growth has been elevated over the past couple of years, driven by strong domestic demand as the government pushes ahead with its economic diversification strategy.

The breakdown on bank credit growth by sector shows strong q/q growth in lending to the construction sector, finance & insurance, professional services and utilities in Q1 2023. On an annual basis, oil & gas and utilities have seen the fastest credit growth, followed by real estate, finance & insurance, and professional services.

Broad money supply and private sector credit growth

Source: Haver Analytics, Emirates NBD Research

Broad money supply growth accelerated sharply in March, growing 4.2% m/m, compared with 1.1% in February. This was the fastest monthly growth rate since February 2020, and was due both to an increase in narrow money (M1) as well as quasi money (time and FX deposits) in March. On an annual basis, broad money supply growth accelerated to 10.0% y/y, the fastest rate of growth since November 2020 and almost matching the growth in private sector credit.

Looking at the breakdown of deposits at commercial banks, government and GRE deposits appear to still be the main source of liquidity, rising by SAR 71bn in Q1 2023, compared with a SAR 36.8bn increase in business & individuals’ deposits.

SAMA balance sheet shrinks in Q1 2023

Government (including GRE) deposits at the central bank declined by SAR 110.3bn in March, down -16.9% m/m and -14.7% y/y. During Q1 2023, government deposits at SAMA fell by SAR 94.2bn, which may have been due to financing a budget deficit in the quarter or transfers to other entities for long-term project development. SAMA’s other miscellaneous liabilities also declined by around SAR 30bn in Q1.

On the other side of the balance sheet, net foreign assets at the central bank declined USD 14.2bn in March to reach USD 419.1bn, the lowest level in more than a decade.  The total decline in NFAs during the first quarter of the year reached USD 21.4bn (SAR 101.1bn).

Consumer spending grew in Q1 2023

Point of sale (POS) transactions grew 23.7% m/m and 8.7% y/y in March, with the monthly boost in spending likely related to preparations around the start of the holy month of Ramadan – this was the strongest monthly expansion since March last year. The nominal figure will also reflect price inflation and the ongoing rise in the number of POS terminals and shift to cashless payments – digital payments overtook cash in Saudi Arabia for the first time in 2021, rising to 57%. This is up from just 36% in 2019, illustrating the accelerating effect of the pandemic on electronic payments.

Consumer spending growth in line with pre-pandemic levels

Source: Haver Analytics, Emirates NBD Research

Overall, consumer spending appears to be relatively resilient. POS transactions plus ATM cash withdrawals grew 4.9% y/y in Q1 2023, almost 2pp ahead of inflation which averaged 3.0% in Q1 2023.