Household borrowing on credit cards and through overdrafts and loans has been growing rapidly. This ‘unsecured’ borrowing is now rising at rates not seen since well before the credit crunch of 2008 (click here for a PowerPoint of the chart below). Should this be a cause for concern?
Household confidence is generally high and, as a result, people continue to take out more loans and so household debt continues to increase. Saving rates are falling and, at 5.1% of household disposable income, are the lowest rate since 2008, mirroring the high levels of spending and borrowing.
But as long as the economy keeps growing and as long as interest rates stay at record low levels, people should be able to continue servicing this rising debt. Indeed, with generous balance transfer offers between credit cards and many people paying off their full balance each month, only 56.6% are paying any interest at all on credit card debt, the lowest level on record.
But there could be trouble ahead! Secured borrowing (i.e. on mortgages) is at record highs as house prices have soared, limiting the amount people have to left to spend, even with ultra low interest rates. Student debt is growing, putting a brake on graduate spending.
With economic growth set to slow and inflation set to rise as the effects of the lower pound filter through into retail prices, this could initially boost borrowing further as people seek to maintain levels of consumption. But then, if unemployment starts to rise and consumer confidence starts to fall, real spending could decline, putting further downward pressure on the economy.
Confidence could then fall further and we could witness a repeat of 2008–9, when people became worried about their levels of borrowing and cut back on consumption in an attempt to claw down their debt. The economy was pushed into recession.
The Bank of England is well aware of this scenario and wants banks to ensure that their customers can afford loans before offering them.
Bank governor Mark Carney warns on household debt BBC News, Brian Milligan (30/11/16)
Credit crunch: Household debt is rising just as the economy’s future is uncertain The Telegraph, Tim Wallace (10/12/16)
Bank of England publication
Financial Stability Report, November 2016 Bank of England (30/11/16)
Money and lending Bank of England Interactive Database
United Kingdom Households Debt To GDP Trading Economics
Household debt OECD Data
- What determines the amount people borrow?
- What would cause people to cut back on the amount of debt they have?
- Distinguish between secured and unsecured borrowing and debt.
- Why has secured borrowing risen? Does this matter?
- What is meant by the term ‘re-leveraging’? What is its significance in terms of household borrowing?
- Find out what the affordability tests are for anyone wanting to take out a mortgage.
- What are the greatest risks to UK financial stability?
Every six months the Bank of England publishes its Financial Stability Report. “It aims to identify the major downside risks to the UK financial system and thereby help financial firms, authorities and the wider public in managing and preparing for these risks.”
In the latest report, published on 17 December 2010, the Bank expresses concern about the UK’s exposure to problems overseas. The two most important problems are the continuing weaknesses of a number of banks and the difficulties of certain EU countries in repaying government bonds as they fall due and borrowing more capital at acceptable interest rates. As the report says:
Sovereign and banking system concerns have re-emerged in parts of Europe. The IMF and European authorities proposed a substantial package of support for Ireland. But market concerns spilled over to several other European countries. At the time of writing, contagion to the largest European banking systems has been limited. In this environment, it is important that resilience among UK banks has improved over the past year, including progress on refinancing debt and on raising capital buffers. But the United Kingdom is only partially insulated given the interconnectedness of European financial systems and the importance of their stability to global capital markets.
The Bank identifies a number of specific risks to the UK and global financial systems and examines various policy options for tackling them. The following articles consider the report.
Bank warns of eurozone risks to UK as EU leaders meet Independent, Sean O’Grady (17/12/10)
Deep potholes on the road to recovery Guardian, Nils Pratley (17/12/10)
It’s reassuring that regulators are still worried about financial stability The Telegraph, Tracy Corrigan (17/12/10)
Europe is still searching for stability and the UK must find it too Independent, Hamish McRae (17/12/10)
Shafts of light between the storm clouds The Economist blogs: ‘Blighty’ (17/12/10)
Financial Stability Report, December 2010: Overview Bank of England
Financial Stability Report, December 2010: Links to rest of report Bank of England
- What are the most important financial risks facing (a) the UK; (b) eurozone countries?
- What is the significance of the rise in banks’ tier-1 capital ratios since 2007?
- Which is likely to be more serious over the coming months: banking weaknesses or sovereign debt? Explain.
- What is being done to reduce the risks of sovereign default?
- Why might the weaker EU countries struggle to achieve economic growth over the next two or three years?
- How do interest rates on government debt, as expressed by bond yields, compare with historical levels? What conclusions can you draw from this?
- What is likely to happen to bond yields in the USA, the UK and Germany over the coming months?
- What has been the effect of the extra £200 billion that the Bank of England injected into the banking system through its policy of quantitative easing?
The International Monetary Fund is made up of 186 countries, which together strive for global monetary co-operation, financial stability, the facilitation of international trade, as well as promoting high employment and sustainable economic growth. At the same time, the IMF and the World Bank also aim to reduce poverty around the world. Some task! – especially with the current financial crisis putting strains on even the richest of countries. In its annual meeting on the 2nd October 2009, the ‘rescue’ of more than 12 governments has already been organised by the IMF.
But it is not just countries who are suffering. The World Bank has said that it could run out of money within the next year and the IMF’s Managing Director has also suggested that it will run out of money for its low-income-country loan facility, which loans money to low-income countries at zero interest rates. However, France and Britain have stepped up with a $4 billion allocation to the IMF to help poorer countries, which may lead to other countries doing the same.
Meanwhile, Alistair Darling continues to fight to keep Britain’s seat at the IMF, as some suggest that Europe has too many seats and should give them up to make room for growing economies. This comes at a time when Britain is also facing the prospect of being side-lined from a new group of economic superpowers that would include the US, Japan, China and the Eurozone countries. The following articles consider the role of the IMF and the WB, as the global economy continues to face financial turmoil.
Doubts remain over global power of IMF Financial Times, Alan Beattie (3/10/09)
Pledge for more IMF help for poor BBC News (4/10/09)
World Bank could run out of money ‘within 12 months’ Telegraph, Edmund Conway (2/10/09)
Will tough new G20 measures work? BBC News (26/9/09)
France, UK to loan IMF$4 billion for poor nations Bloomberg, Sandrine Rastello (3/10/09)
Darling rejects call for UK to lose permanent seat on IMF Guardian, Larry Elliot (4/10/09)
Alistair Darling battles to keep UK on the world’s economic top table Telegraph, Edmund Conway(3/10/09)
World Bank Homepage
- How do the roles of the IMF, the World Bank, the G7 and the G20 differ and overlap? Do we need all of them?
- What are the arguments for less European representation at the IMF? How may this affect decision-making?
- If the G4 does go ahead, with the Eurozone as one of its members, why will the UK be sidelined?
- It is often mentioned that all countries are interdependent, but what do we mean by international policy harmonisation and why is it desirable?
- The BBC News article and the Telegraph article talk about money shortages at the IMF and the WB. What does this mean for the poorer countries and also for the UK and France which have allocated $4 billion to the IMF?