One-third of Canadian households hold three-quarters of the debt
TORONTO, Jan. 26, 2012 /CNW/ - The surge in Canadian borrowing over the
last five years has been driven by the country's most indebted
households, finds a new research report from CIBC World Markets Inc.
The report notes that while much concern has been raised about the
record level of Canadian household debt, now at a debt-to-income ratio
of 151 per cent, little analysis had been done to determine the
distribution of the debt and what is driving its growth.
The CIBC research found that Canada's debt-to-income ratio is topped by
only seven other developed economies. Within Canada, the research found
that households heavily reliant on borrowing, those with a greater than
1.6 debt-to-gross income ratio, now hold 73 per cent of all household
debt in Canada.
"Our new analysis found that all of the rise in debt since 2007 has been
driven by borrowing from those with a high debt-to-gross income ratio,"
says Avery Shenfeld, Chief Economist at CIBC, who co-authored the
report with Benjamin Tal, Deputy Chief Economist. "The growth in
debt-to-income ratios has come from a piling on of debt by those with
high debt burdens, rather than from less indebted households getting
drawn to the punchbowl by the promise of low rates. Some 34 per cent of
households that have debt are now in the high-debt-burden category and
they account for nearly three-quarters of household debt outstanding."
Mr. Shenfeld says that, not surprisingly, the share of those with high
debt-to-income ratios is greater in the provinces of B.C., Alberta and
Ontario where housing is the most expensive. What he found more
surprising was the growth in Canadians over the age of 45 who hold a
high-debt-burden. The share of heavy borrowers in this age group has
climbed from 36 per cent in 2007 to 44 per cent in 2011.
"A rising share of the highly indebted are over 45 years old, an age
where accumulating net assets ahead of retirement should be paramount.
Canadians nearing retirement who should be in their prime savings years
are, instead, getting themselves deeper into debt. We are already
seeing an uptrend in bankruptcies for those 50 and over, but the more
material impact will be that this group's ability to spend could be
severely squeezed upon retirement."
He notes that the root of recent debt growth has been the combination of
ultra-low interest rates and weak growth in household real incomes.
"Borrowing is what fills the gap between what we want to buy and our
incomes, particularly for lumpy expenditures like houses, vehicles and
other durable goods. Strong growth in real incomes can therefore reduce
the reliance on debt by the household sector."
In recent years income growth has been weak. Not only was there a sag in
nominal incomes during the recession, but in the recovery, consumers
faced a much quicker snapback in inflation than in average wages,
driven by a jump in global energy and food commodity prices.
Real disposable income fell by 0.1 per cent during the first three
quarters of 2011. On that score, 2012 looks to be better for the
average worker, as a leveling off in energy prices and a likely cooling
in food inflation brings the consumption deflator closer in line with
sluggish wage gains. But employment growth is likely to remain
The report also examined the differences between the spending habits of
heavy and non-heavy borrowers. Controlling for family composition and
age, the research found that households with lower debt-to-income
ratios appear to devote the lower costs they face on debt service to
savings, rather than consumption.
The result is that high-debt-load Canadians are also being hurt relative
to other families in terms of their accumulation of assets. While their
debts have grown by 18 per cent since 2007, high debt-to-income
Canadians have seen their assets accumulate by less than four per cent
over the same period. This compares to a roughly 10 per cent growth in
assets for those with more moderate debt-to-income burdens.
Mr. Shenfeld does not think Canada is on the precipice of a sharp run-up
in household bankruptcies, which have thus far eased dramatically from
the recession's high. "Many Canadians still have room to borrow and
take advantage of low rates, as they have eschewed that temptation in
recent years. The trigger for a sharp jump in bankruptcies would have
to be sharply rising interest rates and a steep climb in unemployment,
neither of which seems likely, particularly in combination, given that
the Bank of Canada has inflation under wraps.
"But it does raise the spectre of a further deceleration in Canadians'
appetite and room for additional debt, as more reach the constraints of
their ability to service debt. We have already seen a deceleration in
consumer debt. Housing might be next to feel the same pinch, with new
construction and prices leveling off in the year ahead.
"That will leave Canada more at the mercy of the global environment,
which remains clouded by the impacts of fiscal tightening across much
of the developed world."
The complete CIBC World Markets report is available at: http://research.cibcwm.com/economic_public/download/eijan12.pdf
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SOURCE CIBC World Markets
For further information:
Avery Shenfeld, Chief Economist, CIBC World Markets Inc. at (416) 594-7356, firstname.lastname@example.org; or Kevin Dove, Communications and Public Affairs at 416-980-8835, email@example.com