Bad Loans Grow, Slow Greek Recovery

ATHENS – Bad loans owed Greek banks during a crushing economic crisis – estimated to be 75 billion euros – have grown quickly to 80 billion euros, about $103.6 billion, leaving government officials scrambling to find a way to deal with them.

Development Minister Nikos Dendias said the government plans to deal with the issue but gave no idea how. It was previously said that schemes would include ower interest rates, a longer time to repay, decreased interest rate margins, changes of interest rate type without any penalty charges, loan replacements, as well as payback period extensions.

Many Greeks buried by big pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and worker firings have been unable to meet their obligations but are being pressed by the government and international lenders to come up with the cash anyway.

It wasn’t said if that includes the 250 million euros owed by the ruling New Democracy Conservatives of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and his partner the PASOK Socialists, who aren’t paying, even though they get state monies and are cutting staff and expenses in their parties.

Business loans are said to be the most troublesome with many enterprises struggling to stay operating even as the government has hit them with big tax hikes and increased assessments on properties that have plummeted in value because of big pay cuts, tax hikes, slashed pensions and worker firings during record unemployment and deep poverty.

The Bank of Greece is also expected to deliver its latest code of ethics that reportedly will include offering debtors better terms for restructuring their loans, mortgages and credit cards.

Dendias said the government wants to help banks that were pushed into difficulty when a previous PASOK Socialist administration stiffed private investors with 74 percent losses provide more liquidity and start lending again.

He also said the government had not discussed with the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank (EU-IMF-ECB) lifting a ban on foreclosures for people who genuinely can’t pay their mortgages, already partially removed earlier this year.

He also noted that during the negotiations with the troika he raised the issue of granting more business loans through the National Reference Strategic Framework (NSRF), the Athens News Agency said.

On business loans, he noted however, the discussion had not been concluded. “The government wants to help small businesses,” Dendias said, stressing that their decreased revenues was a result of the crisis and not of their own actions.

He also made clear that the government would not help “insolvent debtors, those who make use of the crisis,” saying:  “You cannot have a poor business with a rich businessman.”

The soaring numbers of Non-Performing Loans (NPLs) is also limiting banks’ ability to offer loans to good customers because of a cash crunch.

Prime Minister and New Democracy Conservative leader Antonis Samaras set aside a plan that would have offered relief to heavily-indebted households and is allowing banks to foreclose on homes even if people can’t pay because of austerity.