Tag: balance sheets

This is the second of three blogs looking at high inflation and its implications. Here we look at changes in the housing market and its effects on households. Another way of analysing the financial importance of the housing and mortgage markets is through the balance sheets and associated flow accounts of the household sector.

We used the concept of balance sheets in our blog Bank failures and the importance of balance sheets. In the blog we referred to the balance-sheet effects from interest rate hikes on the financial well-being of financial institutions.

The analysis is analogous for households. Again, we can identify two general effects: rising borrowing and debt-servicing costs, and easing asset prices.

The following table shows the summary balance sheet of the UK household sector in 1995 and 2021.

Source: National balance sheet estimates for the UK: 1995 to 2021 (January 2023) and series RPHA, ONS

The total value of the sector’s net wealth (or ‘worth’) is the sum of its net financial wealth and its non-financial assets. The former is affected by the value of the stock of outstanding mortgages, which we can see from row 3 in the table (‘loans secured on dwellings’) has increased from £390 billion in 1995 to £1.56 trillion in 2021. This is equivalent to an increase from 70 to 107 per cent of the sector’s annual disposable income. This increase helps to understand the sensitivity of the sector’s financial position to interest rate increases and the sizeable cash flow effects. These effects then have implications for the sector’s spending.

Housing is also an important asset on household balance sheets. The price of housing reflects both the value of dwellings and the land on which they sit, and these are recorded separately on the balance sheets. Their combined balance sheet value increased from £1.09 trillion (£467.69bn + £621.49bn) in 1995 to £6.38 trillion (£1529.87bn + £4853.16bn) in 2021 or from 128% of GDP to 281%.

The era of low inflation and low interest rates that had characterised the previous two decades or so had helped to boost house price growth and thus the value of non-financial assets on the balance sheets. In turn, this had helped to boost net worth, which increased from £2.78 trillion in 1995 to £12.29 trillion in 2021 or from 319% of GDP to 541%.

Higher interest rates and wealth

The advent of higher interest rates was expected not only to impact on the debt servicing costs of households but the value of assets, including, in the context of this blog, housing. As Chart 3 in the previous blog helped to show, higher interest rates and higher mortgage repayments contributed to an easing of house price growth as housing demand eased. On the other hand, the impact on mortgaged landlords helped fuel the growth of rental prices as they passed on their increased mortgage repayment costs to tenants.

Higher interest rates not only affect the value of housing but financial assets such as corporate and government bonds whose prices are inversely related to interest rates. Research published by the Resolution Foundation in July 2023 estimates that these effects are likely to have contributed to a fall in the household wealth from early 2021 to early 2023 by as much as £2.1 trillion.

The important point here is that further downward pressure on asset prices is expected as they adjust to higher interest rates. This and the impact of higher debt servicing costs will therefore continue to impact adversely on general financial well-being with negative implications for the wider macroeconomic environment.





  1. What possible indicators could be used to assess the affordability of residential house prices?
  2. What do you understand by the concept of the monetary policy transmission mechanism? How do the housing and mortgage markets relate to this concept?
  3. What factors might affect the proportion of people taking out fixed-rate mortgages rather than variable-rate mortgages?
  4. What is captured by the concept of net worth? Discuss how the housing and mortgage markets affect the household sector’s net worth.
  5. What are cash-flow effects? How do rising interest rates effect savers and borrowers?
  6. How might wealth effects from rising interest rates impact younger and older people differently?
  7. Discuss the ways by which house price changes could affect household consumption.

March 2023 saw the failure of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB), a regional US bank based in California that focused on financial services for the technology sector. It also saw the forced purchase of global-banking giant, Credit Suisse, by rival Swiss bank, UBS. These events fuelled concerns over the banking sector’s financial well-being, with fears for other financial institutions and the wider economy.

Yet it is not the only sector where concerns abound over financial well-being. The cost-of-living crisis, the hike in interest rates and the economic slowdown continue to have an adverse impact on the finances of households and businesses. Furthermore, many governments face difficult fiscal choices in light of the effects of recent economic shocks, such as COVID and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, on the public finances.

Balance sheets and flow accounts

When thinking about the financial well-being of people, business and governments it is now commonplace for economists to reference balance sheets. This may seem strange to some since it is easy to think of balance sheets as the domain of accountants or those working in finance. Yet balance sheets, and the various accounts that lie behind them, are essential in analysing financial well-being and, therefore, in helping to understand economic behaviour and outcomes. Hence, it is important for economists to embrace them too.

A balance sheet is a record of stocks of assets and liabilities of individuals or organisations. Behind these stocks are accounts capturing flows, including income, expenditure, saving and borrowing. There are three types of flow accounts: income, financial and capital. Together, the balance sheets and flow accounts provide important insights into the overall financial position of individuals or organisations as well as the factors contributing to changes in their financial well-being.

The stock value of a sector’s or country’s non-financial assets and its net financial worth (i.e. the balance of financial assets over liabilities) is referred to as its net worth. Non-financial assets include produced assets, such as dwellings and other buildings, machinery and computer software, and non-produced assets, largely land.

An increase in the net worth of the sectors or the whole country implies greater financial well-being, while a decrease implies greater financial stress. Yet a deeper understanding of financial well-being also requires an analysis of the composition of the balance sheets as well as their potential vulnerabilities from shocks, such as interest rate rises, falling asset prices or borrowing constraints.

UK net worth

The chart shows the UK’s stock of net worth since 1995, alongside its value relative to annual national income (GDP) (click here for a PowerPoint). In 2021, the net worth of the UK was £11.8 trillion, equivalent to 5.2 times the country’s annual GDP. This marked an increase of £1.0 trillion or 9 per cent over 2020. This was driven largely by an increase in land values (non-produced non-financial assets).

In contrast, the stock of net worth fell in both 2008 and 2009 at the height of the financial crisis and the ensuing economic slowdown, which contributed to the country’s net worth falling by over 8 per cent.

The chart shows that net financial assets continue to make a negative contribution to the country’s net worth. In 2021 financial liabilities exceeded financial assets by the equivalent of 19 per cent of annual national income.

Non-financial corporations and the public sector together had financial liabilities in excess of financial assets of £3.4 trillion and £2.5 trillion respectively. However, once non-financial assets are accounted for, non-financial corporations had a positive net worth of £607 billion, although their value was not sufficient to prevent the public sector having a negative net worth of £1.2 trillion. Meanwhile, households had a positive net worth of £11.4 trillion and financial corporations a negative net worth of £4.9 billion.

Vulnerabilities and the balance sheets

The collapse of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) resulted from balance sheet distress. Some argue that this distress can be attributed to a mismanagement of the bank’s liquidity position, which saw the bank use the surge in funds, on the back of buoyant activity among technology companies, to purchase long-dated bonds while, at the same time, reducing the share of assets held in cash. However, as the growth of the technology sector slowed as pandemic restrictions eased and, crucially, as central banks, including the Federal Reserve, began raising rates, the value of these long-dated bonds fell. This is because there is a negative relationship between interest rates and bond prices. Bonds pay a fixed rate of interest and so as other interest rates rise, bonds become less attractive to savers, pushing down their price. As depositors withdrew funds, Silicon Valley Bank found itself increasingly trying to generate liquidity from assets whose value was falling.

A major problem with balance sheet distress is contagion. This can occur, in part, because of what is known as ‘counterparty risk’. This simply refers to the idea that one party’s well-being is tied directly to that of another. However, the effects on economies from counterparty risks can be amplified by their impact on general credit conditions, confidence and uncertainty. This helps to explain why the US government stepped in quickly to guarantee SVB deposits.

There is, however, a ‘moral hazard’ problem here: if central banks are always prepared to step in, it can signal to banks that they are too big to fail and disincentivise them for adopting appropriate risk management strategies in the first place.

Subsequently, First Citizens Bank acquired the commercial banking business of SVB, while its UK subsidiary was acquired by HSBC for £1.

Interest rates and financial well-being

In light of the failures of SVB and Credit Suisse, the raising of interest rates by inflation-targeting central banks has raised concerns about the liquidity and liabilities positions of banks and non-bank financial institutions, such as hedge funds, insurers and pension funds. As we have seen, higher interest rates push down the value of bonds, which form a major part of banks’ balance sheets. The problem for central banks is that, if this forced them to make large-scale injections of liquidity by buying bonds (quantitative easing), it would make the fight against inflation more difficult. Quantitative easing is the opposite of tightening monetary policy and thus credit conditions, which are seen as necessary to control inflation.

Yet the raising of interest rates has implications for the financial well-being of other sectors too since they also are affected by the effects on asset values and debt-servicing costs. For example, raising interest rates has a severe impact on the cashflow of UK homeowners with large variable-rate mortgages. This can substantially affect their spending. The UK has a high proportion of homeowners on variable-rate mortgages or fairly short-term fixed-rate mortgages. Also for a large number of households their mortgages are high relative to their incomes.

In short, falling asset values and increasing debt-servicing costs from rising interest rates in response to rising inflation tends to dampen spending in the economy. The effects will be larger the more burdened with debt people and businesses are, and the less liquidity they have to access. This has the potential to lead to a financial consolidation in order to restore the well-being of balance sheets. This involves cutting borrowing and spending.

Such a consolidation could be exacerbated if financial institutions become distressed and if it were to result in even larger numbers of people and businesses facing greater restrictions in accessing credit. These balance sheet pressures will continue to weigh on the policy responses of central banks as they attempt to navigate economies out of the current inflationary pressures.



  1. What is recorded on a balance sheet? Explain with reference to the household sector.
  2. What is meant by net worth? Does an increase in net worth mean that an individual’s or sector’s financial well-being has increased?
  3. What is meant by ‘liquidity-constrained’ individuals or businesses? What factors might explain how liquidity constraints arise?
  4. It is sometimes argued that there is a predator-prey relationship between income and debt. How could such a relationship arise and what is its importance for the economy?
  5. Why might a deterioration of a country’s balance sheets have both national and international consequences?
  6. Explain the possible trade-offs facing central banks when responding to inflationary pressures.

Interest rates have been at record lows across the developed world since 2009. Interest rates were reduced to such levels in order to stimulate recovery from the financial crisis of 2007–8 and the resulting recession. The low interest rates were accompanied by extraordinary increases in money supply under various rounds of quantitative easing in the USA, UK, Japan and eventually the eurozone. But have such policies done harm?

This is the contention of Brian Sturgess in a new paper, published by the Centre for Policy Studies. He maintains that the policy has had a number of adverse effects:

 •  There will be nothing left in the monetary policy armoury when the next downturn occurs other than even more QE, which will compound the following problems.
 •  It has had little effect in stimulating aggregate demand and economic growth. Instead the extra money has been used to repair balance sheets and support unprofitable businesses.
 •  It has inflated asset prices, especially shares and property, which has encouraged funds to flow to the secondary market rather than to funding new investment.
 •  The inflation of asset prices has benefited the already wealthy.
 •  By keeping interest rates down to virtually zero on savings accounts, it has punished small savers.
 •  By rewarding the rich and penalising small savers, it has contributed to greater inequality.
 •  By keeping interest rates down to borrowers, it has encouraged households to take on excessive amounts of debt, which will be hard to service if interest rates rise.
 •  It has lowered the price of risk, thereby encouraging more risky types of investment and the general misallocation of capital.

Sturgess argues that it is time to end the policy of low interest rates. Currently, in all the major developed economies, central bank rates are below the rate of inflation, making the real central bank interest rates negative.

He welcomes the two small increases by the Federal Reserve, but this should be followed by further rises, not just by the Fed, but by other central banks too. As Sturgess states in the paper (p.12):

In place of ever more extreme descents into the unknown, central banks should quickly renormalise monetary policy. That would involve ending QE and allowing interest rates to rise steadily so that interest rates can carry out their proper functions. Failure to do so will leave the global financial system vulnerable to potential shocks such as the failure of the euro, or the fiscal stresses in the US resulting from the unfinanced spending plans announced by Donald Trump in his presidential campaign.

Although Sturgess argues that the initial programmes of low interest rates and QE were a useful response to the financial crisis, he argues that they should have only been used as a short-term measure. However, if they were, and if interest rates had gone up within a few months, many argue that the global economy would rapidly have sunk back into recession. This has certainly been the position of central banks. Sturgess disagrees.


Damaging low interest rates and QE must end now, think thank warns The Telegraph, Julia Bradshaw (23/1/17)
QE has driven pension deficits up, think-tank argues Money Marketing, Justin Cash (23/1/17)
Hold: The ECB keeps interest rates and QE purchases steady as Mario Draghi defends loose policy from hawkish critics City A.M., Jasper Jolly (19/1/17)
Preparing for the Post-QE World Bloomberg, Jean-Michel Paul (12/10/16)

Stop Depending on the Kindness of Strangers: Low interest rates and the Global Economy Centre for Policy Studies, Brian Sturgess (23/1/17)


  1. Find out what the various rounds of quantitative easing have been in the USA, the UK, Japan and the eurozone.
  2. What are the arguments in favour of quantitative easing as it has been practised?
  3. How might interest rates close to zero result in the misallocation of capital?
  4. Sturgess claims that the existence of ‘spillover’ effects has had damaging effects on many emerging economies. What are these spillover effects and what damage have they done to such economies?
  5. How do low interest rates affect interest rate spreads?
  6. Have pensioners gained or lost from QE? Explain how the answer may vary between different pensioners.
  7. What is meant by a ‘natural’ or ‘neutral’ rate of interest (see section 3.2 in the paper)? Why, according to Janet Yellen (currently Federal Reserve Chair, writing in 2005), is this somewhere between 3.5% and 5.5% (in nominal terms)?
  8. What are the arguments for and against using created money to finance programmes of government infrastructure investment?
  9. Would helicopter money be more effective than QE via asset purchases in achieving faster economic growth? (See the blog posts: A flawed model of monetary policy and New UK monetary policy measures – somewhat short of the kitchen sink.)
  10. When QE comes to an end in various countries, what are the arguments for absorbing rather than selling the assets purchased by central banks? (See the Bloomberg article.)

In an attempt to prevent recession following the financial crisis of 2007–8, many countries adopted both expansionary monetary policy and expansionary fiscal policy – and with some success. It is likely that the recession would have been much deeper without such policies

But with growing public-sector deficits caused by the higher government expenditure and sluggish growth in tax receipts, many governments soon abandoned expansionary fiscal policy and relied on a mix of loose monetary policy (with ultra low interest rates and quantitative easing) but tight fiscal policy in an attempt to claw down the deficits.

But such ‘austerity’ policies made it much harder for loose monetary policy to boost aggregate demand. The problem was made worse by the attempt of both banks and individuals to ‘repair’ their balance sheets. In other words banks became more cautious about lending, seeking to build up reserves; and many individuals sought to reduce their debts by cutting down on spending. Both consumer spending and investment were slow to grow.

And yet government and central banks, despite the arguments of Keynesians, were reluctant to abandon their reliance solely on monetary policy as a means of boosting aggregate demand. But gradually, influential international institutions, such as the IMF (see also) and World Bank, have been arguing for an easing of austerity fiscal policies.

The latest international institution to take a distinctly more Keynesian stance has been the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). In its November 2015 Economic Outlook it had advocated some use of public-sector investment (see What to do about slowing global growth?. But in its Interim Economic Outlook of February 2016, it goes much further. It argues that urgent action is needed to boost economic growth and that this should include co-ordinated fiscal policy. In introducing the report, Catherine L Mann, the OECD’s Chief Economist stated that:

“Across the board there are lower interest rates, except for the United States. It allows the authorities to undertake a fiscal action at very very low cost. So we did an exercise of what this fiscal action might look like and how it can contribute to global growth, but also maintain fiscal sustainability, because this is an essential ingredient in the longer term as well.

So we did an experiment of a two-year increase in public investment of half a percentage point of GDP per annum undertaken by all OECD countries. This is an important feature: it’s everybody doing it together – it’s a collective action, because it’s global growth that is at risk here – our downgrades [in growth forecasts] were across the board – they were not just centred on a couple of countries.

So what is the effect on GDP of a collective fiscal action of a half a percentage point of GDP [increase] in public investment in [high] quality projects. In the United States, the euro area, Canada and the UK, who are all contributors to this exercise, the increase in GDP is greater than the half percentage point [increase] in public expenditure that was undertaken. Even if other countries don’t undertake any fiscal expansion, they still get substantial increases in their growth rates…

Debt to GDP in fact falls. This is because the GDP effect of quality fiscal stimulus is significant enough to raise GDP (the denominator in the debt to GDP ratio), so that the overall fiscal sustainability [debt to GDP] improves.”

What is being argued is that co-ordinated fiscal policy targeted on high quality infrastructure spending will have a multiplier effect on GDP. What is more, the faster growth in GDP should outstrip the growth in government expenditure, thereby allowing debt/GDP ratios to fall, not rise.

This is a traditional Keynesian approach to tackling sluggish growth, but accompanied by a call for structural reforms to reduce inefficiency and waste and improve the supply-side of the economy.


Osborne urged to spend more on infrastructure by OECD Independent, Ben Chu (18/2/16)
OECD blasts reform fatigue, downgrades growth and calls for more rate cuts Financial Review (Australia), Jacob Greber (18/2/16)
OECD calls for less austerity and more public investment The Guardian, Larry Elliott (18/2/15)
What’s holding back the world economy? The Guardian, Joseph Stiglitz and Hamid Rashid (8/2/16)
OECD calls for urgent action to combat flagging growth Financial Times, Emily Cadman (18/2/16)
Central bankers on the defensive as weird policy becomes even weirder The Guardian, Larry Elliott (21/2/16)
Keynes helped us through the crisis – but he’s still out of favour The Guardian, Larry Elliott (7/2/16)
G20 communique says monetary policy alone cannot bring balanced growth
Reuters (27/2/15)

OECD publications
Global Economic Outlook and Interim Economic Outlook OECD, Catherine L Mann (18/2/16)
Interim Economic Outlook OECD (18/2/16)


  1. Draw an AD/AS diagram to illustrate the effect of a successful programme of public-sector infrastructure projects on GDP and prices.
  2. Draw a Keynesian 45° line diagram to illustrate the effect of a successful programme of public-sector infrastructure projects on actual and potential GDP.
  3. Why might an individual country benefit more from a co-ordinated expansionary fiscal policy of all OECD countries rather than being the only country to pursue such a policy?
  4. What determines the size of the multiplier effect of such policies?
  5. How might a new classical/neoliberal economist respond to the OECD’s recommendation?
  6. Why may monetary policy have ‘run out of steam’? Are there further monetary policy measures that could be adopted?
  7. Compare the relative effectiveness of increased government investment in infrastructure and tax cuts as alterative forms of expansionary fiscal policy.
  8. Should quantitative easing be directed at financing public-sector infrastructure projects? What are the benefits and problems of such a policy? (See the blog post People’s quantitative easing.)

The Bank of England’s Money and Credit release on 1 Feb provides us with data up to the end of 2015 on lending by banks and building societies to the rest of the UK private sector. In this post we update our blog of 17 December 2015 – is Minsky right yet again? – to analyse the latest data on lending. The headline numbers show that the flow of lending (net of repayments) by banks and building societies to UK households in 2015 was £40.8 billion up from £29.9 billion in 2014 taking their amount of outstanding lending to households to £1.26 trillion. Was American economist Minsky (1919-1996) right to have argued that cycles in credit are inevitable?

Chart 1 shows the stocks of debt acquired by both households and private non-financial corporations from MFIs (Monetary Financial Institutions), i.e. deposit-taking institutions. The scale of debt accumulation in the late 1980s and again from the mid 1990s up to the financial crisis of the late 2000s is stark. At the start of 1980 the UK household sector had debts to MFIs of around £53 billion. By the start of 2009 this had hit £1.29 trillion. To put these figures into context this corresponds to an increase in indebtedness to MFIs from 25 per cent of GDP to 86 per cent of GDP.

The chart also shows the increase in indebtedness of private non-financial corporations which are effectively every day businesses. They saw their debts to MFIs rise from around £25 billion to over £500 billion which is equivalent to an increase from 12 per cent of GDP to 33 per cent of GDP. (Click here to download a PowerPoint of Chart 1.)

The path of debt at the start of the 2010s is consistent with a story of consolidation. Although the term is readily used in the context of the public sector and measures to reduce public-sector deficits the term is also relevant for the private sector. Financially-distressed households, private non-financial corporations and MFIs took steps to repair their balance sheets following the financial crisis. Indeed the term is synonymous with the idea of a balance sheet recession which some economists argue describe the late 2000s. The result was that the demand for and supply of additional credit waned. Debt accumulation largely ceased and, as we can see from Chart 1, debt numbers fell.

More recently the indebtedness to MFIs of households has started to edge up again, though, as yet, not for private non-financial corporations. From the end of the first quarter of 2013 to the end of 2015 household indebtedness to MFIs has increased by 7 per cent to £1.26 trillion.

Chart 2 focuses on flows rather than stocks. (Click here to download a PowerPoint of Chart 2.) It allows us to see the accumulation of new credit (i.e. less repayments of debt). What is even more apparent from this chart is the evidence of cycles in credit. The growth in new credit during the 2000s is stark as is the subsequent squeeze on credit that followed. Across 2006 net flows of credit from MFIs to households reached £106 billion while the peak for PNFCs was across 2007 when they reached £71 billion. Subsequently, net credit numbers crashed with negative numbers for PNFCs indicating net repayments to MFIs.

The size of the credit flows emanating from MFIs and the magnitude of the resulting credit cycles is even more stark when presented as percentages of GDP. The annual flow of credit to households in the late 1980s reached 9.4 per cent of GDP while that to PNFCs peaked at the end of the decade at 5.2 per cent of GDP. Meanwhile, across 2006 net credit to households reached 7.5 per cent of GDP while the peak of lending to PNFCs was in the 12-month period to the end of 2007 Q1 equivalent to 4.8 per cent of GDP. In 2015, credit from MFIs to households reached 2.2 per cent of GDP while that to PNFCs was a mere 0.2 per cent of GDP.

Of course, the key question now is the path of credit. Clearly flows of credit to households are again on the rise. In part, this is driven by the rebound in the UK housing market. But, significantly there has been a significant rise in flows of consumer credit, i.e. unsecured debt.

Chart 3 shows the flows of consumer credit to individuals (excluding student loans involving the Student Loans Company) from MFIs and other credit providers. Again, we see the marked evidence of cycles. Across 2015 these net consumer credit flows amounted to £14.5 billion, the highest annual figure since 2005. (Click here to download a PowerPoint of the chart.)

To put the current rise in consumer credit into context, the net flow of consumer credit to individuals as percentage of GDP across 2015 as a whole amounts to about 0.8 per cent of GDP. This is the highest figure since the second half of 2006. While it might be a little early to say that credit numbers are a cause for concern, they do need to be seen in the context of a still relatively highly indebted household sector. Policymakers will be keeping a keen eye on credit patterns and assessing whether we have again acquired a real appetite for credit.


Households put another £4.4 billion on credit cards and personal loans in December as debt rises at fastest pace in a decade ThisisMoney.co.uk, Rachel Rickard Straus (1/2/16)
One in four ‘living for the day’ as 700,000 more expected to default on debt Independent, Simon Read (2/1/16)
Surprise mortgage jump confounds expectations Independent, Russell Lynch (1/2/16)
U.K. consumer credit slows; mortgage approvals up MarketWatch, Jon Sindreu (1/2/16)
Family debt continues to rise – report BBC News (13/1/16)


Bankstats (Monetary and Financial Statistics) – Latest Tables Bank of England
Statistical Interactive Database Bank of England


  1. How can the financial system affect the economy’s business cycle?
  2. What does it mean if households or firms are financially distressed? What responses might they take to this distress and what might the economic consequences be?
  3. How would you measure the net worth (or wealth) of an individual or a firm? What factors might affect their net worth?
  4. How might uncertainty affect spending and saving by households and businesses?
  5. What does it mean if bank lending is pro-cyclical?
  6. Why might lending be pro-cyclical?
  7. Are there measures that policymakers can take to reduce the likelihood that flows of credit become too excessive?
  8. What do you understand by a consolidation by the private sector? Discuss the possible macroeconomic effects of such a consolidation.
  9. What is meant by a balance sheet recession?
  10. How might the effect of attempts by a large number of individuals to improve their financial well-being differ from those when only a small numbers of individuals do so?