From credit crunch to credit boom: transitional challenges in Bulgarian banking, 1999-2006
New econometric evidence is provided to identify the determinants of the rapid credit growth in Bulgaria and evaluate whether the credit boom has increased bank fragility, based on a panel data analysis of 30 Bulgarian banks over the 1999-2006 period. Employing Fixed effects and GMM estimation techniques to explore the link between credit and capital base in a partial adjustment framework, the study provides evidence for the growing risks of credit expansion and assesses the potential for banking distress in Bulgaria. The paper argues that after a period of severe credit crunch during 1997-1999, foreign-owned Bulgarian banks have financed a credit boom, especially since 2003 but this indicated growing risk in lending and increasing vulnerability to a systemic banking crisis as banks reduced their capital base and registered an increase in non-performing loans. Aggressive lending by less-capitalized banks without appropriate loan loss provisioning has also been verified empirically in a number of panel specifications. While well-capitalized banks have tended to expand credit in proportion to their capital base, banks with weak capital base engaged in excessive risk taking, and expanded credit despite growing ratio of non-performing loans. Hence, the credit boom has come at the expense of increased banking fragility in Bulgaria, raising the probability of bank failure in the event of a downturn in global financial flows which became a disturbing reality in 2008.
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