Monday, September 29, 2014

Private Bad Debt Buildup Casts Shadow on Greek Rebound

by Eleni Chrepa and Nikos Chrysoloras


September 29, 2014

To Aristides Belles, it’s clear what’s blocking Greece’s recovery: a quiet build-up of about 164 billion euros ($208 billion) in bad loans.

“The inability of Greek companies to repay their loans to banks and their dues to the state is clearly holding back Greece’s return to growth,” said the chief executive officer of Athens-based Nireus Aquaculture SA (NIR), a producer of sea bream, sea bass and processed fish. “It’s more necessary than ever for all parties involved -- banks, corporates and the state -- to agree on an arrangement.”

As Greece and its euro-area creditors meet tomorrow to prepare for talks on repayment terms for its public debt, a less-visible crisis is looming on another front: bad debts of households and companies. The borrowings, amounting to about 90 percent of Greece’s gross domestic product, are weighing on the country’s hopes of recovering from the steepest and longest recession on record.

Non-performing loans at Greece’s banks have reached almost 80 billion euros, according to the country’s Growth and Competitiveness Minister Nikolaos Dendias. To top that, Greek households and corporations had overdue taxes of 69.2 billion euros in August, data from the public revenue secretariat show. Also, “collectible” social arrears to pension funds exceed 14.5 billion euros, according to labor ministry figures.

“Some of this debt can never be recovered and should be written off,” said Panos Tsakloglou, a professor at the Athens University of Economics and Business who was Greece’s representative in the working group of senior euro-area finance ministry officials until June.


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