The Fraser Institute

The Fraser Institute

May 20, 2015 05:40 ET

The Fraser Institute: Concern About Canadian Household Debt Levels Overblown When Assets, Other Measures Taken Into Account

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwired - May 20, 2015) - Notwithstanding headlines to the contrary, there is little evidence that Canadian households are being irresponsible in taking on new debt, finds a study released today by the Fraser Institute, an independent, non-partisan Canadian public policy think-tank.

"Almost every day we hear analysts warning that household debt levels have reached record highs. While debt levels are growing, those warnings should be tempered by the fact that asset and net worth levels are increasing at a far greater rate," said Philip Cross, former chief economic analyst for Statistics Canada and co-author of A Longer-Term Perspective on Canada's Household Debt.

For example, from 2010 to 2014, the value of assets owned by Canadian households jumped 31 per cent to approximately $10 trillion (mostly in the form of equities and real estate) while household debt grew by just 21 per cent to $1.8 trillion (mostly in the form of mortgage debt).

"You have to account for assets when you're talking about debt levels, otherwise it's an incomplete story," Cross said.
The study points to several other metrics that suggest record household debt levels aren't a prelude to economic doom and gloom.

Specifically, the growth of household debt in Canada has decelerated by one-third since the recession despite a prolonged period of low interest rates and debt service costs.

As a result, Canada's debt-to-income levels have levelled off and are now dwarfed by the ratios of other countries considered to have sound financial systems. Norway, Switzerland, Australia and South Korea all had higher debt-to-income ratios than Canada in 2012 (the latest year of comparable data from the OECD).

"Much of the concern about household debt in this country stems from fears that we will repeat the U.S. experience of 2007 where high debt levels contributed to that country's financial crisis and housing meltdown. But their problems were mainly the result of policies that encouraged high-risk borrowers to take on excessive debt," Cross said.

"Canada doesn't have that problem. Our banks have tighter lending standards and Canadians are clearly managing their debt levels responsibly with no evident strain to their incomes or balance sheets."

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The Fraser Institute is an independent Canadian public policy research and educational organization with offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal and ties to a global network of think-tanks in 87 countries. Its mission is to improve the quality of life for Canadians, their families and future generations by studying, measuring and broadly communicating the effects of government policies, entrepreneurship and choice on their well-being. To protect the Institute's independence, it does not accept grants from governments or contracts for research. Visit www.fraserinstitute.org

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