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Consumer debt soars in Asia

April 22, 2013 at 11:02 AM   |   Comments

HONG KONG, April 22 (UPI) -- Consumer debt in Asia, outside Japan, is soaring, especially in China where there are already 320 million active credit card accounts, data shows.

Across Asia, excluding Japan, consumer credit for non-mortgage loans has jumped 67 percent in the past five years to $1.66 trillion, data from Euromonitor International shows.

Euromonitor figures show motorcycle and car loans at $219.7 billion in 2012, nearly twice as high as five years earlier. Credit card debt in the same period reached $234.1 billion, a 90 percent jump in five years.

By comparison, in the financially shell-shocked United States through the same period, consumer debt rose by 10 percent, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

In Asia, the middle class is forecast to grow by 100 million people each year, creating a market that amounts to a massive opportunity for producers of goods and finance companies eager to profit on short-term loans.

Interest rates on short terms contracts can reach as much as 40 percent for unsecured loans for goods such as television sets and washing machines.

Brookings Institution economist Homi Kharas said 25 percent of the world's middle class lived in Asia in 2009. By 2020, the percentage is expected to reach 50 percent, the economist said.

Many worry the consumer debt expansion could result in a massive overload of bills consumers will not be able to pay. Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong have all been burned by rapid expansion of their consumer debt markets in recent years.

Regulators are attempting to deal with the growth. China controls loan growth by restrictions placed on banks, which has been ordered several times in recent years. Malaysia and Indonesia are also attempting to control rampant loan growth.

Indonesia's central bank has raised the minimum down payment for consumers to qualify for car and motorcycle loans.

"The worry that's developing is that debt is being pushed onto borrowers who might not have the capacity to repay," economics research Co-Director Frederic Neumann at HSBC Holdings said.

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