Bank of Greece Has Double-Barreled Economic Recovery Plan

FILE - Bank of Greece Governor Yannis Stournaras gives a speech at the annual meeting of the bank's shareholders in Athens, on Monday, April 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

ATHENS – The National Bank of Greece, under Gov. Yannis Stournaras, a former finance minister for the new ruling New Democracy now under Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, wants to help speed a slow economic recovery with an ambitious two-tiered plan.

That includes a possible move to bring forward the securitization of bad loans currently scheduled for 2021 and the sale of the company’s insurance unit as soon as this year, CEO Paul Mylonas told the financial news agency Bloomberg in a report.

Both moves could both help cut costs as the bank carries out a restructuring plan and seeks to move toward further digitalization.  “National Bank of Greece is changing into a faster and more productive bank,” Mylonas said in an interview in Athens. “We are trying to reduce bad loans, cut costs and address the challenges of the future, mainly digitalization,” the CEO said, adding that the lender’s survival depends on the success of the plan.

Having already gotten 50 billion euros ($55.07 billion) in bailouts, Greek banks are buried with  bad loans making up as much as 40 percent of their portfolios but could get another 9-billion-euro ($9.91 billion) injection from the new New Democracy government.

Sources who weren’t identified told the business news site Bloomberg earlier that it will come in the form of state guarantees unless that’s overruled by the European Commission as unlawful state aid to them.

It’s based on what Italy did though with Greek banks eager to get rid of at least 20 billion euros ($22.03 billion) in bad loans that includes 250 million euros ($275.37 billion) owed by New Democracy – with a former administration giving the bank officers immunity for approving the money without sufficient collateral – and the now-defunct PASOK Socialists who served the Conservatives in a coalition.

Greek banks have some 75 billion euros ($82.61 billion) in bad loans, much of it given to business executives who didn’t pay and didn’t account for where the money went and a series of scandals that brought down state banks.

Bad loans, which impede lending to Greek businesses and households, currently run at 36.5% of total credits for National Bank. The country’s lenders have pledged to bring the figure down into the single digits by 2021.

“We’ve promised to proceed with a securitization of mortgage loans in 2021, but we’re looking to bring it forward to 2020,” Mylonas said, as the bank looks to capitalize on current investment conditions and accelerate the clean-up of the bank’s balance sheet.

While Greece will need more outside investment in order to finally leave the crisis era behind, Mylonas said the country is positioned to benefit from current conditions with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis pushing an ambitious budget based on luring foreign investors scared off by the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA’s anti-business attitude and big tax hikes.

“Greece is no longer the weakest economy in Europe, we have large fiscal surpluses, and a small current account deficit,” Mylonas said. “Greece will better absorb a potential slowdown in the global economy, he added.

Pre-crisis, fixed capital investments stood at 20.6% of gross domestic product. The government now projects that in 2020 the figure will be 13.1% of GDP. “There is a gap in fixed capital investments which needs to be filled if Greece wants to have growth rates higher than 2%,” Mylonas also said.