Canadian household debt much higher than believed: StatsCan
Published Monday, October 15, 2012 11:43AM EDT
Last Updated Monday, October 15, 2012 6:14PM EDT
Canadians’ debt-to-income ratio has soared to 163 per cent, much higher than previously believed, according to revised Statistics Canada figures.
The household debt level has increased 1.8 per cent in the second quarter, bringing it to a similar level seen in the United States before the housing bust and the 2008 financial crisis.
At the peak of the U.S. housing bubble in 2007, Americans’ household debt-to-income ratio reached 170 per cent.
StatsCan’s recalculation has also added about 11 percentage points to Canada’s 2011 debt ratio, previously estimated at 150.6 per cent and now pegged at 161.7 per cent.
Statistics Canada said the new figures are the result of a revised method used to measure household net worth, which is more in line with international accounting standards. Non-profit institutions have been removed from the household category to get a better representation of family finances.
"Overall, this supports our bearish view that Canada's housing boom is unsustainable and the eventual correction, which we think is already underway, is likely to have a material negative implications for growth," Capital Economics analyst David Madani said.
However, Madani said he doesn’t expect Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney to hike interest rates in response.
While the latest figures are troubling, RBC Chief Economist Craig Wright says they shouldn’t necessarily trigger alarm bells.
The Canadian household debt “doesn’t strictly compare with the U.S.,” he told CTV’s Power Play Monday.
“So to some degree you’re comparing apples to oranges.”
About 70 per cent of household credit is mortgage-related, Wright said, but new data suggests housing markets across Canada, except in Vancouver, are cooling off.
The Canadian Real Estate Association said Monday that sales of existing homes fell 15.1 per cent in September from a year ago, although last month's numbers were slightly higher than in August.
“So as we move forward we hope (the debt) ratio will stabilize,” Wright said.
Other analysts have pointed out that Canada’s housing market is more stable than in the pre-recession U.S.
StatsCan’s revisions did show that Canadians have more assets than previously thought. The country’s per capita net worth has risen by nearly $8,000 to $190,200, mostly due to a recalculation of holdings in unlisted company shares.
But Canadians’ assets are mostly locked into the value of their homes, which leaves them vulnerable to housing corrections or another financial crisis.
Ottawa recently tightened mortgage rules in an effort to rein in Canadians’ borrowing and spending.
With a report from The Canadian Press