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From Financial Times today...
Europe braced for rising credit card defaults
By Jane Croft and Megan Murphy in London and Francesco Guerrera in New York
Published: July 26 2009 21:09 | Last updated: July 26 2009 21:09
Lenders in Europe bracing themselves for a rising wave of consumer debt defaults as the credit card crisis that has caused billions of dollars in losses among US banks spreads across the Atlantic.
The International Monetary Fund estimates that of US consumer debt totalling $1,914bn, about 14 per cent will turn sour.
It expects that 7 per cent of the $2,467bn of consumer debt in Europe will be lost, with much of that falling in the UK, the continent’s biggest nation of credit card borrowers.
National Debtline of the UK said that the number of calls it had received from UK consumers worried about loans, credit cards and mortgage arrears had reached 41,000 in May — double the 20,000 calls it had received in May 2008. It added that the number of calls showed no sign of abating.
In the US, credit card defaults have been rising for months as a spike in unemployment and the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression took their toll on overstretched consumers.
Banks such as Citigroup, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo and credit card issuers such as American Express have suffered billions of dollars in losses in their credit card portfolios and have warned of more to come.
The rate of US credit card losses has overtaken the rate of unemployment in recent months — a highly unusual occurrence that makes it more difficult for card issuers to forecast future losses.
In the UK, the latest credit card indices from Moody’s, the ratings agency, show that annualised charge-off rates have risen from 6.4 per cent of loans in May 2008 to 9.37 per cent in May 2009. In the US, that rate is above 10 per cent.
Analysts expect further defaults as UK unemployment rises and personal insolvencies, which reached 29,774 in the first quarter of the year, continue to increase.
The falling UK housing market and more stringent lending requirements by banks has also meant that indebted consumers can now no longer rely on withdrawing equity from their homes to pay off other debts such as credit cards or unsecured loans.
Jonathan Pierce, analyst at Credit Suisse, said in a recent note that UK credit card securitisation had suffered “a very sharp rise in arrears to a level well beyond the previous peak seen in 2006”.
UK banks, which begin reporting their first-half results next week, have already warned that they faced a sharp increase in credit card debts, although this is relatively small in the context of writedowns in other areas such as commercial lending.
Barclays, the UK’s biggest credit card lender with 11.7m UK customers through Barclaycard, said in May that UK credit card delinquencies had increased in the first quarter of the year, reflecting adverse economic conditions and rising unemployment.
As a result it had been reducing credit limits and tightening approval rates for new credit cards which were running at less than 50 per cent in March.
Lloyds Banking Group also said in May it had seen impairments rise in both secured and unsecured lending. Lloyds will have to absorb any future losses on credit cards itself as it has not been able to include credit card loans among the £260bn of toxic assets it has insured with the UK government.
With UK trends tending to trail the US by six months, analysts will be in particular watching the reporting season closely for any signs that default rates on UK securitised credit card debt is rising.
The severity of the financial crisis coupled with rising unemployment on both sides of the Atlantic have stoked fears of a substantially higher default rate in the coming months.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009
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