Businessman: Further taxing banks would hurt Estonian economy, banks

Viljar Arakas.
Viljar Arakas. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Estonia further taxing banks currently enjoying major profits right now would end up hurting the country's own economy as well as Estonian capital-based banks, real estate businessman and Coop Pank supervisory board member Viljar Arakas said Thursday.

"There's been talk of a banking tax, but I don't think that's a good idea, because it's a sort of knee-jerk solution: 'Banks are seeing big profits — let's go take something back for the people!'" Arakas said in an appearance on Vikerraadio morning program "Vikerhommik" on Thursday. "But there's a bank-specific nuance [involved] here that makes that difficult."

He explained that when a bank lends money, it does so using not just depositors' money, but also its own capital. Estonian capital-based banks are growing rapidly, however, and have certainly issued loans in a greater proportion than their market share.

"This means that they've taken the market from other banks," he continued. "And if you implement a banking tax now, then things will definitely get significantly more difficult for them in terms of their own capital, as well as the issuance of bonds."

He also cited Lithuania as an example, where Šiauliu Bankas stocks fell by a quarter following the taxation of banks' capital gains.

"We obviously can't legally tax only Swedish-owned banks either," he added.

"[This] hasty idea to tax excess profits would work against Estonia's economy, as the financing of the Estonian economy is based largely on Estonian banks; they need additional capital," Arakas stressed.

The businessman also discussed that current housing loans in Estonia total some €10.5 billion, in addition to approximately €2 billion in car loans and some €10 billion in business loans. At an interest rate of 4 percent, that makes for around €900 million in loan costs.

"That may be an oversimplification, but additional interest expenses for the entire Estonian economy are certainly at least €700 million higher than a year ago," he acknowledged. "A year ago this money was certainly used in some lovely way — with some saving, some investing, some consuming. So that has definitely made the situation more difficult, and its impact is starting to be felt in the business world."

Arakas highlighted that interest rate hikes and inflation may start impacting people's ability to cope, and interest is already increasing in rental apartments, as people are unable to take out housing loans in order to buy homes.

He likewise predicts that the European Central Bank (ECB) may hike interest rates by yet another 0.25 percentage points, and finds it's possible that banks will come under greater pressure to reduce margins on their issued loans.

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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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