News ID: 239096
Published: 1153 GMT February 19, 2019

Top Greek bank CEO calls on lenders to do more in reducing the country's bad debts

Top Greek bank CEO calls on lenders to do more in reducing the country's bad debts
ft.com

The high level of bad loans in Greece is still the biggest issue that the embattled economy needs to focus on, the head of Piraeus Bank told CNBC.

The southern European economy has taken several steps to bring down the level of bad loans or NPLs (non-performing loans) — loans that are in or close to default.

Greek banks have the highest NPL ratio across the eurozone at 44.8 percent, according to the most recent figures from the European Parliament. This is a much higher percentage than Italy's, which stood at 9.7 percent.

Christos Megalou, the CEO of Piraeus Bank, told CNBC on Monday that there has been a ‘significant improvement’ in this area, but he "would like to see even more in reducing the amount of NPLs in the banks' balance sheets."

"The four systemic banks have agreed among themselves to reduce the non-performing loans between now and 2021 by €50 billion ($56 billion). 50 billion is almost 28 percent of the GDP (gross domestic product) of this country.

It is a significant percentage vis-a-vis the actual percentage being produced by this country. I would like to see this happening and I would be very happy if we are able to achieve these targets as we have set ourselves out to achieve," he said in Athens.

In the case of Piraeus, the aim is to reduce NPLs by €15 billion before 2021. This after having reduced bad loans by €5 billion in 2018, the CEO said.

"The more weapons you have in your arsenal to address the issue, the better," Megalou said on further initiatives from the Bank of Greece and the finance ministry to help the banks with this task.

Greece put an end to nearly 10 years of financial help after it ended a third financial rescue in August and has vowed to stick to stringent fiscal targets in the coming years in exchange for some debt relief.

 

The country is expected to grow at a rate of 2.2 percent this year and 2.3 percent in 2020, according to forecasts by the European Commission. These would be the third and fourth consecutive years of growth following the eurozone debt crisis.

Much of what happens to the Greek economy in the coming months will be critical to support or hinder the banks' reduction of bad loans.

Megalou told CNBC that there has been strong interest from international funds in buying Greek NPLs.

"We had situations where funds were competing and in the process of competition they had to pay a significant amount of money in due diligence to be able to bid for these assets. We are very happy as a principal selling those loans of the level of competition and the level of activity we see in the NPL market. I would dare to say that one of the most interesting asset classes in Greece these days is the non-performing loans in this country."

   
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