INTERNATIONAL - Argentines are so crazy about soccer that a lender is betting they’ll pay 50 percent interest to finance their trips to the World Cup in Russia this month.
BBVA Banco Frances SA, the local unit of the Spanish bank, has been airing television commercials encouraging Argentines to rally behind Lionel Messi and his teammates by taking out one of their seven-year loans. The lender is offering up to 1 million pesos ($40,000) payable in 84 installments, with the added incentive that if you make all the payments you won’t pay any taxes and fees in the final year.
Now, paying effectively 50 percent interest annually on a loan may look like insanity even for the most die-hard soccer fan, but with Argentina’s inflation running at more than 25 percent and the central bank pushing its benchmark rate to 40 percent last month, the BBVA offer looks less onerous. High inflation is an incentive to borrow and make payments later when money is cheaper. BBVA Frances’s personal loans portfolio grew by 80.5 percent in the first quarter from a year earlier as Argentines flock to take out mortgages and consumer loans.
“These kinds of interest rates can seem crazy to anyone outside Argentina, but Argentines have become experts at playing the inflation game and kicking the can down the road,” said Juan Alonso, an analyst who covers BBVA for TPCG Valores SA in Buenos Aires. “An Argentine doesn’t look at interest rates, they just ask about the monthly installment they will have to pay. If they have the chance to pay off a trip to the World Cup over seven years they will take it.”
A representative for BBVA Frances in Buenos Aires declined to comment on the interest the bank is charging or the number of customers who use the loans for travel.
BBVA Frances has made 8,500 of the loans, lending about 1.2 billion pesos in total, since introducing the product in August. The original terms of the loan offered a nominal annual interest rate of 32 percent, which with taxes and fees implied a real interest rate of 46.38 percent. The bank raised the rate to 34 percent in March, taking the borrower’s financial cost to 49.85 percent.
La Albiceleste, or white-skyblue as the team is nicknamed for the national colors, is among the favorites to lift the trophy this year and it has always counted on a passionate following to cheer it on. This year is no exception with Argentines having bought 52,999 tickets, in the top 10 behind countries such as the U.S. and Russia, of the more than 2 million sold so far, according to FIFA.
Taking out debt in installments is a tried-and-tested strategy used by many Argentines to get ahead of inflation. Loans such as the ones from BBVA Frances are also a key way for many to afford the tickets and travel after their currency has plunged more than 25 percent this year. The country is negotiating a credit line of about $40 billion to help plug a budget deficit and calm investor concerns about the country’s economic outlook.
For now, the fans can make the trip to Russia where Argentina is playing its first game against Iceland on June 16 in Moscow.
“A World Cup is a religious experience,” said Marcelo Bertolino, who traveled to Brazil in 2014 and will go with his son to attend several games in Russia. “This time is going to be expensive because of the weaker peso and the distance, but it’s still a worth the trip.”
- BUSINESS REPORT