ECONOMY

More Greeks look to loans

Demand for mortgages was particularly brisk in most banks in September, showing that retail banking still has a large potential for growth – contrary to many hasty forecasts. This also applies to consumer credit, which banking officials project to post high growth rates in the first months of 2003, after the abolition of the 24,000-euro limit and the application of the interbank credit monitoring system Teiresias for individual borrowers. According to a study by the Hellenic Union of Banks (EET), released in June, just 11 percent of all Greek households today have running mortgages or house repair loans, a rate much lower than the European Union average. According to the survey, the Greek mortgage market has really taken off in the last three years, mainly due to the steep fall in interest rates. Characteristically, only 5 percent of Greek households had a mortgage three years ago, less than half of today’s rate. Market experts, therefore, do not discount the possibility that the present rate may double again in three or four years, provided economic conditions are favorable. They caution, however, that this cannot be taken for granted. The EET study also cites impressive data on the growth of consumer credit. Presently, 34 percent of households have a credit card and 20 percent consumer loans, up from 19 percent and 14 percent respectively in November 1999. This significant increase does not reflect the rise in the sums involved, which is much larger. The outlook for the immediate future, however, is rather uncertain, as officials have repeatedly expressed anxiety over the fast rate of credit expansion which may lead them to impose restrictions. On the whole, the levels of consumer credit are nearer EU averages, but banks say the potential for further growth is there. The survey reported a further 13 percent «intending taking out a loan or credit card.» The planned changes next year are expected to have a significant effect on the industry, with credible clients gaining and raising the security factor for banks. According to EET, since 1999 the percentage of bank clients with cash cards has risen from 45 to 64 percent, of those with current accounts from 8 to 16 percent and of those with debit cards from 4 to 8 percent.