Canadians Household Debt Hits $1.8 Trillion, Agencies Issue Domestic Risk Warnings

March 13, 2018 10:33 am Last Updated: March 13, 2018 10:33 am

TORONTO—Canadians’ collective household debt has climbed to $1.8 trillion as an international financial group sounds an early warning that the country’s banking system is at risk from rising debt levels.

Equifax Canada said in a new report Monday that Canadian consumers now owe $1.821 trillion including mortgages as of the fourth-quarter of 2017, marking a 6 percent increase from a year earlier.

Although 46 percent of Canadians reduced their personal liabilities, roughly 37 percent added more debt in larger amounts on average, according to the credit reporting agency’s latest report. In turn, the average amount of personal debt increased 3.3 percent to $22,837 per person, not including mortgages.

“Despite the high debt, mortgage payments are generally on time, which could be attributed to low unemployment numbers and mortgage and auto finance interest rates which are still at historically low and reasonable levels,” said Regina Malina, Equifax Canada’s senior director of decision insights in a statement released Monday.

The fresh numbers come as an international financial group owned
by the world’s central banks says Canada’s credit-to-gross-domestic-product and debt-service ratios show early warning signs of potential risk to the banking system in the coming years.

The latest report by the Bank of International Settlements (BIS) said Canada’s credit-to-GDP gap and debt-service ratios have surpassed critical thresholds and are signalling red, pointing to vulnerabilities.

BIS, however, cautions that these indicators should not be treated as a formal stress test, but as a first step in a broader analysis.

The country’s credit-to-GDP gap is 9.6, above the group’s critical red zone threshold of 9. This indicator measures the gap between the country’s credit-to-GDP ratio and the overall long-term trend over time—a widening of which can indicate a possible financial imbalance. Canada is one of four countries in the red zone on this metric along with Hong Kong, China, and Switzerland, at 30.7 per cent, 16.7 per cent and 16.3 per cent, respectively. The United States, for comparison, is -6.9.

As well, Canada’s debt-service ratio, which measures interest payments and amortizations relative to income, is at 2.9 percent. That surpasses BIS’ critical threshold on this measure of 1.8 percent. Canada is one of five countries in the red on this metric, again along with Hong Kong and China at 6.9 percent and 5.1 percent, respectively. The debt-service ratio in both Russia and Turkey were also showing signs of risk, at 1.8 percent and 6.1 percent, respectively.

“Canada, China and Hong Kong SAR stand out, with both the credit-to-GDP gap and the DSR flashing red,” the international body said in its report, released Sunday. “For Canada and Hong Kong, these signals are reinforced by property price developments.”