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Parisians pawn furs, antiques to make ends meet

From Juliet Mann, CNN
May 11, 2012 -- Updated 1051 GMT (1851 HKT)
  • Some Parisians using their belongings as security against loans
  • Credit Municipal has operated as pawn brokers since the 17th century
  • Around 40% more people pawning objects at Credit Municipal in last five years

Paris (CNN) -- While the French electorate has put its faith in a new president to turn around the country's economic fortunes, some cash-strapped Parisians are turning to time-honored methods to make ends meet.

Nicole Rocher is among the crowds of Parisians that line up daily up to pawn their wares at the famous Credit Municipal, which has operated in the city since the 17th century. She is hoping to offload some of her possessions, including furs and a clock, for cash to boost her dwindling retirement fund.

"We are going through a difficult time," says Rocher. "My husband and I are retired so there are periods which are sometimes hard and we need to pay the rent."

Parisians have been going to Credit Municipal for centuries to take out low-cost loans against their belongings to make ends meet. They bring anything with a minimum value of €30 as security against a 12-month loan equal to half the object's value.

Tough economic times have seen around 40% more people turning up here in the last five years -- 700 people a day, compared to 550 a year ago.

We are quite a good barometer of the economy and we are slightly ahead of it.
Bernard Candiard, director Credit Municipal

"We are quite a good barometer of the economy and we are slightly ahead of it, because our 30% increase in trade between 2007 and 2008 was before the crisis," says Credit Municipal director Bernard Candiard. "So the crisis began with us four months before it happened to the markets."

Credit Municipal was set up as an alternative to moneylenders demanding interest rates of between 100% and 300%. Today, clients pay between 4% and 9% interest and can extend the loan as long as they wish. The average loan is €1,000.

Nine out of 10 people who come here do recuperate the objects they have pawned. But in the economic downturn it is taking them twice as long to do that -- around two years. If they can't pay back the loans the objects they have brought in are sold at auction.

If anything goes for a profit, the original owner pockets the takings after commission and administrative costs.

Rocher's fur was rejected, but she cashed in on the clock. She says it's not what she hoped for, but it is something -- and something that the oldest financial institution in town can do to help down-on-their-luck Parisians through these tough economic times.

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