Credit squeezes banks

A number of small commercial banks are beginning to feel the danger caused by offering too many loans, especially consumer loans. Already, there is an increasing number of loans which are not being serviced and which are weakening the position of the credit institutions which have provided these loans. According to the Bank of Greece’s latest figures, consumer and housing loans came to 8 trillion drachmas, or 22.7 billion euros, at the end of November 2001. Consumer loans over the 12-month period have increased by 42.1 percent and housing loans by 37.4 percent. The central bank has advised banks of the need to increase their provisions for non-performing loans. The rapid drop in rates over the last year has pushed banks into a race to grab as much of the market sector as possible. In an effort to make the credit system safer, the central bank is promoting the modernization of the Teiresias credit rating system which will allow easier access to data concerning debtors. At the same time, the Bank of Greece’s figures show that the loans are supporting consumer spending and are keeping the GDP growth rate at high levels. The data shows that debts from mortgages and consumer loans increased by 200 billion drachmas from October to November. The increase in these loans over the past year has been great, with consumer loans and mortgages totaling 5.4 trillion drachmas in November 2000. The drop in interest rates has helped fuel this credit expansion. It is worth noting that in November 2000, the average mortgage rate was 8.68 percent, while in November 2001 it had dropped to 5.78 percent. Another contributing factor was the aggressive policy by the credit institutions themselves to gain market share. The Bank of Greece’s figures also show a continued lack of interest in repos, with the total placed in repurchase agreements dropping from 30.6 billion euros in October to 30.5 billion euros in November.