Hungary Seeks ‘Drastic’ Cut in Swiss Franc-Loan Exposure
Hungary wants to “drastically” cut the ratio of foreign-currency loans by early next year to reduce the country’s vulnerability to exchange-rate swings, said János Lázár, the ruling party’s parliamentary leader. The governing Fidesz party may back rules and, “if necessary, sanctions,” that will encourage banks to allow borrowers to rid themselves of foreign-currency loans, Lázár told reporters in Budapest on Oct. 14. New measures may be approved this year, Lázár told a briefing today. “I’m almost certain we will take further steps” this year, Lázár said. “My fellow members of parliament will be satisfied if hardly any foreign-currency loans remained in Hungary by next spring and instead we’d have forint loans that don’t pose exchange-rate risks.” Hungary, where two-thirds of mortgage loans are denominated in Swiss francs, is struggling to help borrowers after that currency rose to a record, boosting defaults and pushing up monthly payments. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán last week said the government is considering “unexpected, unchartered” measures to escape its franc-debt trap. “The goal is to drastically cut the ratio of foreign currency borrowers by next spring,” Lázár said Oct. 14. “The state needs to craft regulations and, if necessary, sanctions to make banks allow the early repayment.”
Hungary's Viktor Orbán has no appetite for democracy
A July 2010 photo of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán kissing the hand of a most-delighted U.S. ambassador, Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis, suggests they had a warm relationship. Lately, though, things have cooled - a lot. Maybe it's Orbán's increasingly anti-democratic antics. Just the usual stuff - cracking down on the media, curbing the independence of the judiciary, attacks on minorities and a drift toward one-party rule.
Or maybe it's his annoying praise of Chinese investment and aid along with his constant denigration of Western Europe and predictions of the decline of the West. This from a country that's a member of NATO and the European Union. Despite human rights groups' increasing criticism of Orbán's governing style - a sort of Lukashenko-lite policy along the lines of autocrat Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus - the premier generally has continued his ways.
So Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton - in Budapest on June 30 for the opening of the Tom Lantos Institute, a human rights organization named for the late Hungarian-born congressman - tried to make things perfectly clear, warning against letting "any democracy anywhere backslide." She and Orbán "talked very openly about preserving democratic institutions," Clinton said at a joint news conference with him, in a Hungary that "is very true to its democratic traditions to protect individual liberties."
Hungary: dicing with downgrade
Hungary’s future is getting murky once again and not all of its woes can be blamed on the eurozone’s debt crisis – its own policies are definitely part of the problem. Its growth forecasts are being slashed, it is likely to be downgraded by at least one of ratings agencies in the coming weeks and its currency is being badmouthed. Not good. András Simor, central bank governor, revealed on Tuesday that the bank’s growth forecasts had been drastically reduced, to just 0.6 per cent next year from 1.5 per cent previously. It is not a particularly good time for such an announcement. Both Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s are due to visit Hungary over the next few weeks, with Fitch due in the next six months, and all the signs point to a downgrade. Société Générale said in a note on Thursday it believed “that there is a substantial risk of an imminent downgrade of Hungary’s sovereign rating”.
Hungary: how low can growth go?
It’s tough being an economic pundit in Hungary these days. Péter Oszkó, finance minister in the Socialist government ousted 18 months ago, says he speaks on Hungarian economic affairs almost every week, but these days declines requests to send presentations in advance. “Anything written a week ago is no longer valid by the time of the conference. We have to react to new things every day,” he says. (…) At the end of last month, in a report on inflation, the bank forecast Hungary’s economic growth for next year at 1.5 per cent. A few days later, talking to foreign journalists, that figure had dropped to 1.0 per cent. Fast forward a fortnight and today it’s slipped again – Hungary’s economy will expand by a mere 0.6 per cent in 2012, and the budget deficit will be in the region of 3.1 per cent of GDP, overshooting the government target of 2.5 per cent, unless almost all reserves in the budget are saved, Bloomberg reports the governor telling parliament.