Resilient consumers

Strong retail sales in November and a slowing decline in new vehicle registrations in January suggested that Greek consumer spending continues to remain resilient, according to figures released yesterday. The data lent weight to official optimism that the forecast growth rate of 3.8 percent for this year is achievable, even as other eurozone countries scaled back on their own projections. The National Statistics Service (EYSE) said yesterday that the revised retail sales value index in November showed a 7.5-percent year-on-year increase, with supermarkets and department stores accounting for a fifth of total sales. Consumer spending was also strong in food and beverages, cigarettes, pharmaceutical and cosmetic products, books and stationery. EYSE’s provisional statistics showed the decline in new passenger car registrations slowing to 13.1 percent in January from 14.3 percent in the previous month. According to Association of European Automotive Manufacturers figures published on Wednesday, 15 of its member states, including Germany, France and Italy, reported flat and even falling sales. Economists said both sets of figures pointed to Greek consumers’ staying power. Alpha Bank economist Dimitrios Maroulis said that strong consumer spending is linked to the continuing consumer credit boom. The Bank of Greece in its January economic report said that consumer credit in November went up by 42.8 percent year-on-year to a total of 7.5 billion euros. The prolonged credit boom is due principally to the fierce competition among banks for a greater market share, which in turn has brought down interest rates to historically low levels. Maroulis said strong November retail sales suggested that gross domestic product growth remained at a fairly high level and that Greece managed to ride out the economic slowdown in the wake of September 11, unlike its eurozone partners.

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