Canadians' debt-to-income ratio hits record high
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Monday, December 13, 2010 9:37PM EST
Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney expressed alarm Monday as new figures revealed Canadians are now carrying more debt than Americans for the first time in 12 years.
Statistics Canada announced that the Canadian household debt-to-income ratio hit a record high of 148.1 per cent in the third quarter. That is slightly above the 147.2 per cent debt ratio seen in the U.S, according to latest figures from the U.S. Federal Reserve.
It is also a jump of almost five percentage points from the second quarter of this year, when the ratio of credit market debt-to-personal disposable was 143.4 per cent.
Statistics Canada says much of the increase in this quarter was due to a 1.5 per cent drop in disposable income, rather than a rise in borrowing.
The figures have Carney worried. During a speech Monday to the Economic Club in Toronto, Carney said that the financial and economic crisis is far from over and both Canadians and Canadian businesses need to curb their hunger for cheap money.
He noted that Canadians' household credit has grown by seven per cent since the recession's trough, compared to a fall of 3.5 per cent in the U.S.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper echoed those sentiments on Monday, saying the government is concerned about Canadians' personal debt levels.
Harper told a news conference in Quebec the government had already introduced changes to mortgage rules to prevent a sudden increase in debt.
"This is a matter that is of concern to the government. We continue to warn Canadian households that interest rates are unlikely to go down in the future," he said when questioned about the issue by a reporter.
"Obviously, we encourage Canadians to manage their affairs soundly," Harper said.
Carney suggested that many Canadians may have gotten too accustomed to unusually low interest rates and could find themselves in over their heads if interest rates suddenly rise, or employment falls.
"Low rates today do not necessarily mean low rates tomorrow," he reminded. "Risk reversals, when they happen can be fierce; the greater the complacency, the more brutal the reckoning."
The remarks echo the tone Carney struck last week when he warned that "the vulnerability of the Canadian household sector has increased," and "the probability of an adverse labour market shock materializing is judged to have edged higher in recent months."
However Ian Lee, a business professor at Carleton University, says the numbers are not as troubling as they appear.
"I think we should be concerned but I do not believe we are approaching some kind of a housing meltdown or a credit meltdown," Lee told CTV New Channel Monday afternoon.
"About three quarters of the debt owed by Canadians . . . is owed on mortgages."
He says while debt is high, Canadians have much more in the way of assets, either through their homes or in savings.
"Our debt-to-asset ratio is four to one. So we are not drowning in debt if our assets exceed our debt by a factor of four to one."
Lee said the only households that could be considered worrisome are those that bought their first home in the last five years.
"It's the new homeowners that are most at risk. Why? Because they are young, they are just starting out, they want to start a family and they have to buy everything," he said.
A bright spot of news in the Statistics Canada report is that Canadians' net worth is still on the rise. Household net worth was up 2.7 per cent in the third quarter to $178,600.
That's the largest increase seen this year, and just slightly below the record $179,000 seen in the second quarter of 2008.
The increase occurred as the Standard and Poor's /Toronto Stock Exchange composite index saw a 9.5 per cent per cent increase in the third quarter.
With reports from The Canadian Press