ECONOMY

Consumer loans fail to take off, as people use reserves

Data on personal loans, published yesterday by the Bank of Greece, show clearly that business is sluggish. Despite a notable relaxation in the limits of consumer loans in July 2003, there was no impact on these loans, which continued to grow at the same pace. On the other hand, there was an acceleration in personal loans, which cover current needs and make up for diminished incomes. Savings accounts declined in absolute terms in July, confirming the impression that, government declarations of a robust economy to the contrary, citizens are digging deep into their reserves. Consumer loans grew 22.6 percent in July, compared to a year ago. This rate of growth has been more or less stable over the past three months. Also in July, all types of individual loans (consumer, personal and housing) rose 28.6 percent from last year, a slight decline from June, when the annual growth rate was 29.1 percent. The actual amount of loans taken out in July was 36.03 billion euros, of which housing loans amounted to 24.2 billion euros and consumer loans, 10.8 billion euros. The rest were personal loans. Economy Ministry officials had hoped that the much higher limits on consumer loans would encourage people to get loans and spend on goods. At the Bank of Greece, there has been much less optimism. Consumer and housing loans had, since 2000, been a crucial factor in maintaining high internal demand. They provided decisive help to the economy in difficult times and, in particular, helped alleviate the psychological effects from the precipitous decline of the Athens Stock Exchange. The same stabilization of the growth rate was seen in loans through credit cards. Such loans were growing, at the end of July, at a 33 percent pace, slightly lower than the 33.2 pace registered in June. In absolute numbers, these came to 5.7 billion euros, from 4.3 percent in July 2002. In consumer loans requiring additional documentation (e.g. car purchase), the decline continued: in July, these were 15 percent lower than in July 2002, from 14.2 percent lower in June. In absolute terms, these loans amounted to 1.8 billion euros from 2.1 billion in July 2002. On the other hand, personal loans increased 38.3 percent in July, to 3.29 billion euros, from 2.39 billion in July 2002.