In Gloomy prospects for UK consumer spending in 2012? we talked about how consumer spending can be affected by the financial position of households. Figures from United Kingdom National Accounts – Blue Book 2011 (see Tables 6.1.9 and 10.10) give the latest complete set of balance sheets for the UK household sector. The figures are for 2010 and in this blog we provide a brief overview of what these figures reveal.
In effect, there are two main balance sheets of interest for households (and non-profit institutions serving households (NPISHs), i.e. charities and voluntary organisations). The first details their net financial wealth and the second their physical wealth, also known as their non-financial wealth. We begin with net financial wealth. This is found by subtracting financial liabilities (debt) from financial assets. The household sector in 2010 had financial liabilities of £1.54 trillion equivalent to 1.6 times its disposable income for the year or 1.1 times the nation’s Gross Domestic Product. Of these liabilities, £1.2 trillion was mortgage debt, i.e. loans secured against property. On the other hand, the sector had financial assets of £4.3 trillion equivalent to 4.4 times its disposable income in 2010 or 3 times GDP. Of these financial assets, the value in pension funds and life assurance was £2.27 trillion.
The net financial wealth of households and NPISHs in 2010 was £2.8 trillion, 2.9 times the sector’s disposable income for the year or 1.9 times GDP. To this we need to add physical wealth of £4.9 trillion, a massive 5 times the sector’s disposable income or 3.3 times the nation’s GDP. The majority of this is residential buildings the value of which were put at £4 billion for 2010. This demonstrates the significance of housing to the UK household sector balance sheet.
If we now add physical wealth to net financial wealth, we find that in 2010 the household and NPISH sector had a net worth of £7.7 trillion. To put this in context, it is equivalent to 7.8 times the disposable income it earned in 2010 and 5.3 times the UK’s Gross Domestic Product. While these are enormous figures it is worth noting that in 2007 the sector’s net worth was £7.4 trillion, equivalent to 8.5 times annual disposable income.
A trawl through the figures clearly shows the impact of the financial crisis on the sector’s net worth. From £7.4 trillion in 2007, net worth fell in 2008 to £6.6 trillion or 7.2 times annual disposable income. However, 2009 and 2010 did see the households’ net worth increase again – including relative to its disposable income. This has been the result of its net financial wealth increasing. Net financial wealth in 2010 was 9.8 per cent higher than in 2007. However, the depressed housing market has continued to adversely impact on the sector’s net worth. Physical wealth in 2010 was 0.7 per cent lower than in 2007.
Of course, while these empirical observations are undoubtedly interesting, the key question for debate is how these patterns affect household behaviour. Of particular importance, is how changes in both the household sector’s total net worth and the components making up the total will translate into changes in consumer spending. Economists are increasingly recognising that in understanding consumer spending patterns we need to gain a deeper understanding of the impact of the balance sheets on consumer spending. It is quite likely that many retailers when forming their plans for the year ahead will be analysing the potential impact of household finances on spending behaviour. Developing strategies to respond to the state of the household balance sheets may be crucial to their success.
United Kingdom National Accounts – Blue Book 2011 (datasets) Office for National Statistics (see Tables 6.1.9 and 10.10)
Debt levels head towards £30,000 for every adult Mirror, Tricia Phillips (2/12/11)
40% risk getting further in debt this Christmas Independent, Simon Read (3/12/11)
Uk’s debts ‘biggest in the world’ BBC News, Robert Peston (21/11/11) (This article looks at debt across all sectors, including corporate and government debt too)
Drowning in debt: Warning over 4,000% interest rates as 3.5m people say they will be forced to take out ‘payday’ loans in the next 6 months Daily Mail, Emily Allen (7/12/11)
UK households wealthier than Germany’s says UBS Telegraph, Jamie Dunkley (9/12/11)
- In the context of the household balance sheets, explain the difference between the concepts of stocks and flows.
- Illustrate with examples your understanding of what is meant by secured and unsecured debt. What factors are likely to affect the growth from one period to another in the stocks of secured and unsecured debt outstanding?
- Draw up a list of possible factors that could affect the value of the household sector’s net financial wealth. Now repeat the exercise for non-financial wealth.
- Draw up a list of ways in which you think changes to the values of items on the household balance sheets could affect consumer spending. After drawing up this list consider their significance in 2012.
- What sort of items would be included in the balance sheets of firms and of government?
I found myself singing this morning which I have to admit is not the most pleasant experience for those in ear-shot. I was singing to the tune of ‘love is all around us’. But rather than the words of the song performed by the Troggs in the late 1960s and by Wet Wet Wet in the 1990s, I found myself singing ‘debt is all around us’. It could easily have been the sub-conscious effect of the headlines relating to government debt (also known as national debt). But, actually it was the effect of having looked at my latest credit card statement and noting the impact that my summer holiday had had on my financial position! Relaxation, so it seems, doesn’t come cheap. With this in mind, I have just taken a look at the latest bank of England figures on British household debt. You can do the same by going to the Bank of England’s statistical release lending to individuals.
The latest figures reveal that at the end of June 2011 households in Britain had a stock of debt of £1.451 trillion. Now this is a big number – not far short of the economy’s annual Gross Domestic Product. But, interestingly, this is its lowest level in three years. Indeed, over the past twelve months the stock of household debt has fallen by £6 billion. This is the result of the sector’s repayment of unsecured debt, such as credit card debt and overdrafts. The stock of unsecured debt has fallen by £8.2 billion or 3.8% over the past year to stand at £209.7 billion.
The remaining £1.241 trillion of household debt is secured debt which is debt secured against property. The stock of secured debt has risen by £2.16 billion over the last 12 months, but this equates to a rise of less than 0.2%. In fact, further evidence from the Bank of England reveals that households are not only looking to reduce their exposure to unsecured debt but to pay off mortgage debt too. You might wonder how this might be occurring given that the stock of mortgage debt has risen, albeit only slightly. The answer lies in the growth of housing investment relative to that of mortgage debt. Housing investment relates, in the main, to the purchase of brand new homes and to major home improvements. As our population grows and the housing stock expands and as we spend money on improving our existing housing stock we acquire more mortgage debt. Bank of England figures show that housing investment has been greater than new secured lending. Consequently, the additions to the stock of lending have been less than housing investment. This gives rise to negative housing equity withdrawal, i.e. negative HEW.
The Bank of England estimates that in Q1 of 2011 there was an increase in housing equity of £5.8 billion. Negative housing equity withdrawal (HEW), an injection of housing equity, has occurred every quarter since Q2 2008. Since then, the UK household sector has injected some £63.7 billion of housing equity. The opportunity cost of this injection is that by increasing equity in property households are using money that could have been used for consumption or for purchasing financial assets. The extent of this negative HEW over the past 12 quarters has been the equivalent to 2.2% of disposable income.
While my credit card may have ballooned this month, it would appear that the household sector is looking to reduce its debt exposure. I will be looking to do likewise!
Housing injection goes on BBC News (4/7/11)
Personal insolvencies rise Independent, Philip Whiterow (5/8/11)
Mortgage boom as homeowners cash in an try reduce debts Independent, Simeon Read (5/7/11)
Homeowners inject £5.8 billion of equity into property in first quarter Telegraph, Emma Rowley (5/7/11)
Housing equity injection continues Guardian, Hilary Osborne (4/7/11)
Lending to individuals statistical release Bank of England
Housing equity withdrawal (HEW) statistical release Bank of England
- Illustrate with examples what is meant by secured and unsecured debt.
- What factors might help to explain the longer-term growth in secured and unsecured debt over recent decades?
- What factors might help to explain the more recent patterns in secured and unsecured debt?
- What do you understand by the term housing equity withdrawal?
- What is meant by negative HEW?
- What factors might help to explain the negative HEW observed for the past twelve quarters?
- What implications might there be for economic growth of negative housing equity withdrawal (HEW)?
Despite better economic growth in the first quarter of 2011, confidence remains low and according to Halifax, this has contributed to a decline in house prices from March to April by 1.4% to give their lowest average price since July 2009. Halifax has blamed this steady decline on a lack of confidence and the uncertain economic climate. However, despite this latest decline, Halifax have suggested that the trend may be coming to an end. Martin Ellis, from Halifax had this to say:
“Signs of a modest tightening in housing market conditions, a relatively low burden of servicing mortgage debt and an increase in the number of people in employment are all likely to be providing support for house prices, curbing the pace of decline. There are signs that house sales are stabilising, albeit at a level lower than the historical average.”
There are many factors that contribute towards house prices: the number of properties on the market, the number of buyers, the availability of mortgages and finance, interest rates and the future economic climate. How these factors change will have a crucial influence on the future house price trend. The following articles consider the causes and likely consequences of this latest housing market data.
House prices fall at fastest rate in 18 months Telegraph (9/5/11)
House prices ‘fell by 1.4% in April’ the Halifax says BBC News (9/5/11)
House prices post biggest fall in 1-1 ½ years Reuters, Fiona Shaikh (9/5/11)
House prices dive to a two-year low Independent, Nicky Burridge (9/5/11)
UK housing market remains weak Wall Street Journal, Jason Douglas (9/5/11)
U.K April house prices fall most in seven months, Halifax says Bloomberg, Svenja O’Donnell (9/5/11)
- What are the main causes behind this decline in house prices?
- The articles talk about the volatility of house prices over recent months. What is the explanation for this?
- If interest rates are increased by the MPC, is it more or less likely to cause house prices to decline further? Explain your answer.
- Why dies Martin Ellis, of Halifax, believe that the decline in house prices might reverse this year?
- How does the housing market affect the wider UK economy? Is these latest data likely to jeopardise the fragile recovery?
Research from the Halifax estimates that the total wealth of UK households at the end of 2009 was £6.316 trillion. Putting this into context, it means that the average UK household has a stock of wealth of £236,998. In real terms, so stripping out the effects of consumer price inflation, the total wealth of households has grown five-fold since 1959 while the average wealth per household has grown three-fold while. The growth in wealth per household is a little less because of the increase in the number of households from 6.6 million to 26.6 million. For those that like their numbers, total household wealth in 1959 was estimated at £1.251 trillion (at 2009 prices) while the average amount per household was £72,719 (at 2009 prices).
But, do changes in household wealth matter? Well, yes, but not necessarily in a consistent and predictable manner. That’s why so many of us love economics! For now, consider the prices of two possible types of assets: share prices and house prices. The prices of both these assets are notoriously volatile and it is this volatility that has the potential to affect the growth of consumer spending.
It might be, for instance, that you are someone who keeps a keen eye on the FTSE-100 because you use shares as a vehicle for saving. A fall in share prices, by reducing the value of the stock of financial assets, may make some people less inclined to spend. Housing too can be used as a vehicle for saving. Changes in house prices will, of course, affect the capital that can be realised from selling property, but also affect the collateral that can be used to support additional borrowing and, more generally, affect how wealthy or secure we feel.
The Halifax estimates that the household sector’s stock of housing wealth was £3.755 trillion at the end of 2009 while its stock of financial assets (such as savings, pensions and shares) was £4.024 trillion. In real terms, housing wealth has grown on average by 5% per year since 1959 while financial assets have grown by 2.8% per year. Of course, while households can have financial and housing assets they are likely to have financial liabilities too! We would expect households’ exposure to these liabilities – and their perception of this exposure – to offer another mechanism by which household spending could be affected. For instance, changes in interest rates impact on variable rate mortgages rates, affecting the costs of servicing debt and, in turn, disposable incomes.
The Halifax reports that the stock of mortgage loans was £1.235 trillion at the end of 2009, which, when subtracted from residential housing wealth, means that the UK household sector had net housing equity of £2.519 trillion. It estimates that the stock of mortgage loans has increased on average by 6.5% per year in real terms since 1959 while net housing equity has grown by 4.5%. The stock of households’ unsecured debt, also known as consumer credit, was £227 billon at the end of 2009. In real terms it has grown by 5.3% per year since 1959.
The recent patterns in household wealth are particularly interesting. Between 2007 and 2008 downward trends in share prices and house prices contributed to a 15% real fall in household wealth. The Halifax note that some of this was ‘recouped’ in 2009 as a result of a rebound in both share prices and house prices. More precisely, household wealth increased by 9% in real terms in 2009, but, nonetheless, was still 8% below its 2007 peak.
Given the recent patterns in household wealth, including the volatility in the components that go to comprise this stock of wealth, we shouldn’t be overly surprised by the 3.2% real fall that occurred in household spending last year. Further, we must not forget that 2009 was also the year, amongst other things, that the economy shrunk by 4.9%, that unemployment rose from 1.8 million to 2.5 million and that growing concerns about the size of the government’s deficit highlighted the need for fiscal consolidation at some point in the future. All of these ingredients created a sense of uncertainty. This is an uncertainty that probably remains today and that is likely to continue to moderate consumer spending in 2010. So, it’s unlikely to be a time for care-free shopping, more a time for window shopping!
Halifax Press Release
UK household wealth increases five-fold in the past 50 years Halifax (part of the Lloyds Banking Group) (15/5/10)
Household wealth ‘up five-fold’ UK Press Association (15/5/10)
We’ve never had it so good: Families five times richer than in 1959 Daily Mail, Steve Doughty (15/5/10)
Household wealth grows five-fold in past 50 years BBC News (16/5/10)
Average household wealth jumps £150,000 Telegraph, Myra Butterworth (15/5/10)
- Draw up a list of the ways in which you think consumer spending may be affected by: (i) the stock of household wealth; and (ii) the composition of household wealth.
- What factors do you think lie behind the annual 5% real term increase in the value of residential properties since 1959?.
- How might the sensitivity of consumer spending to changes in interest rates be affected by the types of mortgage product available?
- Why do you think consumer spending fell by 3.2% in real terms in 2009 despite real disposable income increasing by 3.2%?
- What would you predict for consumption growth in 2010? Explain your answer.
Each month the Bank of England reports on the amount of net lending by households. This is the amount that households have borrowed from financial institutions (gross lending) less any repayments households have made to financial institutions. In March, net lending to households was £643 million, down from £2.43 billion in February. Of the £643 million, £318 million was net secured lending (i.e. mortgage lending) and £325 million net unsecured lending (i.e. lending through credit cards, overdrafts and general loans).
Now, you might think that net lending of £643 million means that the stock of debt owed by households grew by £643 million. Well, not quite; some debt is ‘written off’ by financial institutions. When bad debts are taken into consideration we find that the stock of debt actually fell in March by £2.682 billion to stand at £1.460 trillion. Of this stock of debt, £1.239 trillion is secured debt and £221.65 billion is unsecured debt. Put another way, 84% of household debt is secured debt and 16% unsecured debt.
One of the interesting developments of late has been the decline in the household sector’s stock of unsecured debt. It has now fallen for 10 months in a row and in 16 of the last 18 months. Interestingly, in only 7 of these months was net unsecured lending actually negative. However, historically low sums of net unsecured lending combined with the writing-off of unsecured debt has meant that the stock of unsecured debt has fallen by £14.975 billion over the past 18 months. Over the same period the total stock of debt increased by £2.379 billion.
Patterns in net lending by households and in the growth of the stock of household debt reflect, on one hand, the willingness and ability of lenders to supply credit and, on the other hand, the demand by households for credit. On the supply-side, the financial crisis continues to restrict lending by financial institutions. But demand has been affected too because households as well as banks are looking to rebuild their balance sheets. Furthermore, the economic downturn, lower asset prices, including, until of late, lower house prices, as well as a sense of economic uncertainty have all contributed to a more precautionary mind-set amongst households.
This precautionary mind-set has impacted on the housing market. Housing market activity can, at best, be described as ‘thin’. Even though the seasonally-adjusted number of mortgage approvals for house purchase rose by 4.3% in March to 48,901, this is almost half the 94,043 seen on average each month over the past ten years. A further demonstration of the household sector’s precautionary behaviour is the sector using housing as a vehicle for saving. We observed in our blog article Saving through housing: households build firmer foundations that since the second quarter of 2008 additional housing investment (i.e. money spent on moving costs, including stamp duty, the purchase of newly built properties or expenditure on major home improvements) has been greater than net secured lending. This is known as negative housing equity withdrawal (HEW). In other words, the household sector’s stock of secured borrowing has increased by less than we would have expected.
In the 12 months to the end of March, the stock of secured debt rose by only 0.9% compared with an average annual growth rate of 9.8% over the past 10 years. Of course this doesn’t mean that households have simply been using some of their own money to fund housing investment, but that they have also been paying-off some of their existing secured debt. This, coupled with the 4.3% decline in the stock of unsecured debt, demonstrates the extent to which the household sector has been looking to consolidate. It would be something of a surprise if this consolidation was to stop any time soon.
Weak mortgage lending set to undermine house prices Independent, David Prosser (5/5/10)
Mortgage lending down almost 90% from 2007 peak Guardian, Katie Allen (4/5/10)
Mortgage approvals still sluggish, figures show BBC News (4/5/10)
Mortgage lending stalls this year Telegraph, Harry Wallop (4/5/10)
Lending dip fuels house price fall fears Press Association (4/5/10)
Lending to individuals Bank of England
Monetary and Financial Statistics (Bankstats) Bank of England (See Tables A5.1 to A5.7, in particular)
Housing equity withdrawal (HEW) statistical releases Bank of England
- What do you understand by the term net lending? What would a negative net lending figure indicate?
- Illustrate with examples what you understand by secured and unsecured debt.
- What factors might explain why the household sector’s net secured lending has been less than the amount of its housing investment (e.g. the household sector’s purchase of new houses or its spending on major refurbishments)? Does this mean that stock of secured lending has been falling?
- What factors might explain the recent historically low levels of net unsecured lending?
- Does net lending have to be negative for the stock of debt to fall? Explain your answer.
- As well as the household sector, which other sectors might need to rebuild their balance sheets? How might such behaviour be expected to impact on the economy?