The Honduran financial sector is small in comparison to the banking systems of its neighbors. After 1985, however, the sector began to grow rapidly. The average annual growth rate of value added to the economy from the financial sector for the 1980s was the second-highest in Latin America, averaging 4 percent. By 1985 Honduras had twenty-five financial institutions with 300 branch offices. Honduran commercial banks held 60 percent of the financial system's assets in 1985 and nearly 75 percent of all deposits. With the exception of the Armed Forces Social Security Institute, all commercial banks were privately owned, and most were owned by Honduran families. In 1985 there were two government-owned development banks in Honduras, one specializing in agricultural credit and the other providing financing to municipal governments.
At the behest of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, Honduras began a process of financial liberalization in 1990. The process began with the freeing of agricultural loan rates and was quickly followed by the freeing of loan rates in other sectors. Beginning in late 1991, Honduran banks were allowed to charge market rates for agricultural loans if they were using their own funds. By law, the banks had to report their rates to monetary authorities and could fix rates within two points of the announced rate.
In 1991 commercial banks pressured the government to reduce their 35 percent minimum reserve ratio. This rate remained standard until June 1993 when the minimum requirement was temporarily lifted to 42 percent. The rate was dropped to 36 percent three months later. The banks had excess reserves, and lending rates were in the area of 26 to 29 percent, with few borrowers. Prior to liberalization measures, the Central Bank of Honduras (Banco Central de Honduras) maintained interest rate controls, setting a 19 percent ceiling, with the market lending rate hovering around 26 percent in late 1991. With inflation hitting 33 percent in 1990, there was, in fact, a negative real interest rate, but this situation reversed in 1991 when rates were high relative to inflation. Rates of 35 to 43 percent in 1993 were well above the inflation rate of 13 to 14 percent. Bankers argued for further liberalization, including easing of controls in the housing and nonexport agricultural sectors.
A Honduran stock exchange was established in August 1990 with transactions confined to trading debt. Nine companies were registered with the exchange in 1991; in 1993 this number had grown to eighteen. It appears doubtful, however, that the market will develop fully, given the reluctance of family-held firms to open their books to public scrutiny.
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