We have learnt a lot this week about the appetite of households for spending. And, it appears that they are not particularly hungry. On Monday, the Quarterly National Accounts for Q1 revealed that, in real terms, household sector spending fell by 0.1% in the quarter despite disposable income growing by 2.1%. Today, we have learnt that households have continued to increase the amount of equity in their homes. The Housing Equity Withdrawal (HEW) figures for Q1 show that households increased their stake in housing by some £3.2 billion.
Housing Equity Withdrawal occurs when lending secured on dwellings increases by more than the investment in the housing stock. Housing investment relates largely to the purchase of brand new homes and to major home improvements, but also includes housing moving costs such as legal fees. What the Bank of England does is to compare these levels of housing investment with the amount of additional secured lending. If the Bank of England finds that additional secured lending is equal to the amount of housing investment then HEW is zero. If it is positive, then additional secured lending is greater than the levels of housing investment. This would show that the household sector was extracting equity from the housing stock and using mortgage lending to fund consumption, to purchase financial assets or to pay off unsecured debts, like credit cards.
But, the point here is that HEW is actually negative and has been so since the second quarter of 2008. Negative HEW means that housing investment levels are greater than the levels of new secured borrowing. In other words, household are increasing their housing equity. But, there is a cost to this choice because by doing so households are using money that could otherwise be assigned for spending or purchasing financial assets. One way of measuring the potential extent of foregone consumption is to note that the Bank estimates that the level of equity injected into housing in Q1 was equivalent to 1.3% of disposable income. Since Q2 2008 households have injected equity into housing to the tune of £38.34 billion, which is equivalent to 1.97% of disposable income, some of which might have otherwise been used to fund spending.
The negativity of HEW is not that surprising. In difficult economic times many of us might be tempted, if we can, to reduce our exposure to debt. Low interest rates may also be inducing households to pay off debt either because the interest rates on saving products are low and unattractive or because the size of mortgage payments for those on now lower variable rate mortgages gives them income with which to pay debt off. The bottom line is that after many years happily spending, households appear to be dining off a different menu.
Homeowners raise stakes in homes, says Bank of England BBC News (15/7/10)
Mortgage debt drops £3.2 billion Independent, Nicky Burridge (15/7/10)
Drop in outstanding mortgage debt UK Press Association (15/7/10)
Equity withdrawal still negative Financial Times, Cara Waters (15/7/10)
Saving may cause a double-dip recession Telegraph, Harry Wallop (13/7/10)
- What do you understand by the term ‘housing equity withdrawal’?
- Compare the possible implications for consumer spending of positive HEW and negative HEW.
- What factors do you think lie behind the eight consecutive quarters of negative HEW?
- Why might a low interest rate environment affect the incentive to withdrawal housing equity? What other variables might also affect levels of HEW?
- How does HEW affect the net worth of households?