ECONOMY

Indebtedness accelerates

Household indebtedness continues to rise and even shows signs of accelerating, according to data released yesterday by the Bank of Greece. Credit expansion to households rose at an annual pace of 28.5 percent in March, compared to 27.3 percent in February 2004. Total household indebtedness stood at 42.6 billion euros, or 26 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), at the end of March. This may appear low compared to an EU average of 46 percent, but the pace of credit expansion has long alarmed the central bank, which has consistently posted warnings over the past three years. In his last annual report, Bank Governor Nicholas Garganas said consumers ought to take into account their expected income over the next few years as well as the fact that interest rates may not remain as low in the long term. Failure to acknowledge these factors could result in inability to pay back debts. Disbursement of private loans rose 49.4 percent, compared to 43.2 percent in February and 35.2 percent in December 2003. In absolute terms, the outstanding balance of personal loans was 4.6 billion euros at the end of March, compared to 4.4 billion at end-February. Consumer credit expanded at a pace of 31.2 percent at the end of the first quarter. Credit expansion from credit cards decelerated somewhat, to 23.9 percent at end-March, from 24.8 percent in February and 25.5 percent in December 2003. Housing credit expanded 24.7 percent at end-March, compared to 23.9 percent in February and 25 percent in December 2003. The overall indebtedness of households and enterprises to commercial banks stood at 105.3 billion euros or 64 percent.