Belfast Telegraph

Bank loans surge as Northern Ireland businesses looking to grow

By Yvette Shapiro

Northern Ireland's banks are seeing a "significant increase" in demand for business loans as the economy picks up pace and companies press ahead with expansion plans.

First Trust says it has approved over £600m in loans to businesses in the province since August 2014.

At the same time it has seen loan drawdowns up 120% year on year.

It also revealed that its loan approval rate has been maintained at 95% between January and August this year.

Richard Ennis, director of business and corporate banking, said: "Last year has really seen our customers' confidence and ambition increase.

"We noticed the upward trend in lending starting with our corporate clients, but it is now evident across our client base with many now in a position to expand.

"These latest lending figures and future pipeline show a strong desire among businesses, both large and small, to invest for the future and that is very encouraging as we seek to rebalance the wider economy.

"The demand we are seeing in recent months is noticeably more capital-driven, with customers seeking future growth loans as opposed to working capital for current cash needs - something which is in stark contrast to just a few years ago."

Danske Bank has also experienced a surge in demand for business loans this past year, although it declined to release figures. Kevin Kingston, deputy chief executive, said: "We provided more new lending to business customers in the first half of 2015 than we did in the whole of 2014.

"We have continued to see this high level of demand throughout quarter three.

"This is down to an encouraging increase in demand for lending from our existing customers after a long spell of relatively subdued demand and the continued acquisition of customers from other institutions."

In July, Ulster Bank revealed that it had increased business lending by 57% in the first half of the year and had a £1.5bn fund available for business customers in 2015.

Bank of Ireland declined to comment.

Further details of Ulster Bank and Bank of Ireland business lending are expected within the next few weeks when the institutions reveal their annual results.

A major factor in business confidence at present is the continuation of low interest rates. The Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) has voted to leave rates on hold at 0.5%. They've now remained unchanged for more than six years.

The MPC said UK growth was seeing a "gentle deceleration" since hitting a peak in 2014 and could continue to ease back if the global economy weakens.

Belfast Telegraph