Accessibility links

Breaking News

Poland: Poland's Christmas Credit Ride Is On Slippery Slope

Warsaw, 27 December 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Poles have been embracing a new lifestyle with great enthusiasm, namely that living on credit.

Our correspondent in Warsaw says Poles have adjusted just fine to what is seen as this Western style of personal financial organization, particularly at Christmas time, with its extra demands on families' budgets.

So much so, in fact, that some economic experts are becoming alarmed at the impact on the national economy. Like parents who want to take away dangerous toys from their children, clucking officials say something will have to be done -- and quickly -- to stop the situation running out of control.

These official rumblings come amid the extravaganza of Christmas shopping which marks Poland's progress towards the development of a market economy. But as western consumers learned long ago to their cost, the party can end in a bump and a leave a considerable hangover. Money that is borrowed must be paid back.

In Poland, the fear is that people are borrowing more than they can really afford, and that they will have trouble repaying it. Should this happen on a large scale, it would have a distorting impact on the country's economy as a whole.

Our correspondent reports that Polish banks have been besieged for several months ahead of the festive season by citizens eager for credit to buy that special present which now seems just within reach.

Lines have formed outside banks in the frosty weather, and each day, each bank branch has been granting new individual credits.

The banks themselves fuel the gold-rush atmosphere, as they hand out money thinking of the extra returns in interest payments. Some of the banks have introduced yet another lending line called "credit under your Christmas Tree."

No less a personage than the president of the National Bank of Poland, Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, has grown concerned at the yule-tide image of bankers as plump and friendly Father Christmases, showering the child-like populace with money -- money that has to be paid for eventually.

Gronkiewicz-Waltz has threatened in several interviews and in a parliamentary speech last week that the National Bank "will have to do something". She mentioned raising central bank interest rates, which would in turn force banks to charge more for their credit to consumers, thus dampening consumer demand for money. She mused at the same time on other restraining mechanisms to stop the excess circulation of money fueling destructive inflation.

She is probably hoping that her comments alone will have a sobering effect on the situation, because she knows that tightening the money supply too much carries the danger of dampening the economy in sectors where growth is needed.

It's a question of how to discourage the self-indulgent orgy of credit-taking without affecting more basic areas of Polish economic life.