Offer of loans to SMEs hit by coronavirus outbreak oversubscribed

SINGAPORE (THE BUSINESS TIMES) – Over 100 businesses in Singapore have applied for loans from a fund set up by Singaporean property tycoon John Lim’s family office, JL Family Office, ARA Asset Management and Straits Trading Company, seeking a total of more than $6 million.

The trio had set up a $5 million fund earlier this month to extend short-term loans to local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in a bid to help those that might be facing temporary cash-flow problems as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

Of the 110 loan applications, close to 60 per cent met the eligibility criteria, said ARA, JL Family Office and Straits Trading in a joint statement on Monday (Feb 24).

The fund has disbursed its first loan, which went to a vegetarian food chain. The loan was approved in less than 48 hours and the funds were issued within 24 hours, according to the statement.

Almost 30 per cent of the loan applications came from SMEs in the retail, and food and beverage (F&B) sectors, which have been hit by “significantly lower” patronage.

ARA Group CEO John Lim said the “overwhelming response” to the fund “attests to the need for SMEs struggling during this period to find alternative sources of cheaper short-term funding”.

The fund has also received a $3 million contribution from Singapore-based tycoon Gordon Tang – who is a majority shareholder of Singapore-listed property developer SingHaiyi Group – and his family.

Ms Celine Tang, Mr Tang’s wife and the managing director of SingHaiyi, said: “The Tang family has been through numerous business cycles ourselves, and we fully empathise with fellow business owners who feel the stress and pressure during economic downturns.”

Since Feb 15, local businesses had been able to apply for loans of up to $50,000 for up to a period of six months from the fund, through online crowdfunding platform Minterest.

The interest rate is pegged at 0.5 per cent per month. There is also a 2 per cent processing fee charged by Minterest to cover loan administrative expenses.

To be eligible, the companies must be GST-registered and be majority-owned by Singaporeans and/or Singapore permanent residents. They must also have been in operation for the past 12 months.

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