In an emerging markets briefing on November 30, Lehman analysts said extensive research showed access to bank lending was a “powerful force in fostering future growth”. On the other hand, evidence suggested it also presented potential risks, including looser lending standards and the possibility of an overheating economy.
“Fast growth in bank loans might also reflect increased reliance on external sources of credit, which might prove to be unstable and potentially very destabilising,” the report said.
Between 2003 and 2006, bank lending increased significantly in almost all emerging market economies assessed in the report. However, there has been much variation across regions during the past five years. In Asia, for instance, the rate of year-on-year growth in private bank lending as a proportion of gross domestic product was roughly 15%. The report said it had been higher in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, at around 35% a year.
Amid tightening global credit conditions, a drop in levels of bank credit in emerging market economies might become a “vehicle for contagion that has so far been overlooked”, the report claimed. “In fact, a slowdown in domestic bank lending could be a trigger for a more abrupt slowdown of domestic economies than thus far envisaged.” Countries with a high proportion of recent lending growth against GDP were potentially more vulnerable, it said.
The report cited Kazakhstan as an example of a country where high levels of bank lending followed by a swift cutback had proved problematic. Where the country’s banks had previously relied mostly on external sources of funding, the report said they had subsequently become overextended, and were now having to resort to domestic liquidity sources. That meant its domestic banks would “almost inevitably” have to shrink their balance sheets.