Have you ever woken in the night worrying about your finances? Most of us have. Our overall financial position undoubtedly exerts influence on our spending. Therefore, we would not expect our current spending levels to be entirely determined by our current income level.
Our financial health, or what economists call our net financial wealth, can be calculated as the difference between our financial assets (savings) and our financial liabilities (debt). Between them, British households have amassed a stock of debt of £1.423 trillion, almost as much as annual GDP, which is around £1.5 trillion (click here to download the PowerPoint.) We look here at recent trends in loans by financial institutions to British households. We consider the effect that the financial crisis and the appetite of individuals for lending is having on the debt numbers.
There are two types of lending to individuals. The first is secured debt and refers to loans against property. In other words, secured debt is just another name for mortgage debt. The second type of lending is referred to as unsecured debt. This covers all other forms of loans involving financial institutions, including overdrafts, outstanding credit card debt and personal loans. The latest figures from the Bank of England’s Money and Credit show that as of 31 March 2013, the stock of debt owed by individuals in the UK (excluding loans involving the Student Loans Company) was £1.423 trillion. Of this, £1.265 trillion was secured debt while the remaining £157.593 billion was unsecured debt. From this, we can the significance of secured debt. It comprises 89 per cent of the stock of outstanding debt to individuals. The remaining 11 per cent is unsecured debt.
The second chart shows the growth in the stock of debt owed by individuals (click here to download the PowerPoint chart). In January 1994 the stock of secured debt stood at £358.75 billion and the stock of unsecured debt at £53.774 billion. 87 per cent of debt then was secured debt and, hence, little different to today. The total stock of debt has grown by 246 per cent between January 1994 and March 2013. Unsecured debt has grown by 197 per cent while secured debt has grown by 253 per cent.
However, more recently we see a different picture evolving, more especially in unsecured debt. Since October 2008, the monthly series of the stock of unsecured debt has fallen on 47 occasions and risen on only 7 occasions. In contrast, the stock of secured debt has fallen on only 12 occasions and often by very small amounts. Consequently, the stock of unsecured debt has fallen by 23.2 per cent between October 2008 and March 2013. In contrast, the stock of secured debt has risen by 3.5 per cent. The total stock of debt has fallen by 0.4 per cent over this period.
Another way of looking at changes in the stock of debt is to focus on what are known as net lending figures. This is simply the difference between the gross amount lent in a period and the amount repaid. The net lending figures will, of course, mirror changes in the total debt stock closely. For example, a negative net lending figure means that repayments are greater than gross lending. This will translate into a fall in the stock of debt. However, some difference occurs when debts have to be written off and not repaid.
The third chart shows net lending figures since January 1994 (click here to download the PowerPoint chart). The chart captures the financial crisis very nicely. We can readily see a collapse of net lending by financial institutions to households. It is, of course, difficult to disentangle from the net lending figures those changes driven by changes in the supply of credit by financial institutions and those from changes in the demand for credit by individuals. But, we can be certain that the enormous change in credit levels in 2008 were driven by a massive reduction in the provision of credit.
To further put the net lending figures into context, consider the following numbers. Over the period from January 2000 to December 2007, the average amount of monthly net lending was £8.52 billion. In contrast, since January 2009 the average amount of net lending has been £691 million per month. Consider too the composition of this net lending. The average amount of net secured lending between January 2000 and December 2007 was £7.13 billion per month compared with £1.39 billion for net unsecured lending. Since January 2009, monthly net secured lending has averaged only £756 million while monthly net unsecured lending has averaged -£64.4 million. Therefore, repayments of unsecured lending have outstripped gross unsecured lending.
While further analysis is needed to fully understand the drivers of the net lending figures, it is, nonetheless, clear that the financial system of 2013 is very different to that prior to the financial crisis. This change is affecting the growth of the debt stock of households. This is most obviously the case with unsecured debt. The stock of unsecured debt in March 2013 is 24 per cent smaller than in its peak in September 2008. It is now the job of economists to understand the implications of how the new emerging patterns in household debt will affect our behaviour and overall economic activity.
Money and Credit – March 2013 Bank of England
Statistical Interactive Database Bank of England
Bank of England extends lending scheme Financial Times, Chris Giles (24/4/13)
Markets insight: Europe and the US lines cross on household debt ratio Financial Times, Gillian Tett (9/5/13)
British families are the deepest in debt Telegraph, James Kirkup (14/5/13)
Total property debt of British households stands as £848bn Guardian, Hilary Osborne (13/5/13)
Household finances reach best level in three years – but are stuck below pre-crisis levels This is Money.co.uk, Matt West (17/5/13)
ONS says Welsh households have lowest debts in Britain BBC News (28/1/13)
- Outline the ways in which the financial system could impact on the spending behaviour of households.
- Why might the current level of income not always be the main determinant of a household’s spending?
- How might uncertainty affect spending and saving by households?
- Explain what you understand by net lending to individuals. How does net lending to individuals affect stocks of debt?
- Outline the main patterns seen in the stock of household debt over the past decade and discuss what you consider to be the principal reasons for these patterns.
- If you were updating this blog in a year’s time, how different would you expect the charts to look?
Each month the Bank of England releases figures on the amount of net lending to households. Net lending measures the additional amount of debt acquired by households in the month and so takes into account the amount of debt that households repay over the month. For some time now, the levels of net lending have been remarkably low. Over the first quarter of 2011, monthly net lending to households averaged £1.2 billion. This might sound like a lot of money and in many ways this is true. But, to put the weakness of this figure into perspective, the monthly average over the past ten years is £7 billion.
Household debt can be categorised as either secured debt or unsecured debt. The former is mortgage debt while the latter includes outstanding amounts due on credit and store cards, overdrafts and personal loans. Levels of net secured lending have averaged £1 billion per month over the first 3 months of 2011. This compares with a 10-year average of £5.8 billion per month. Levels of net unsecured lending have averaged £196 million per month over the first 3 months of 2011. This compares with a 10-year average of £1.2 billion per month. In 12 of the months between December 2008 and January 2011 net unsecured lending was actually negative. This means that the value of repayments was greater than new unsecured lending. Once bad debts are taken into account we observe from the autumn of 2008 almost persistent monthly falls in the stock of unsecured debt.
Weak levels of net lending reflect two significant factors. First, on the supply-side, lending levels remain constrained and credit criteria tight. Second, on the demand-side, households remain anxious during these incredibly uncertain times and would appear to have a very limited appetite for taking on additional credit.
Finally, a note on the stock of debt that we households collectively hold. The stock of household debt at the end of March 2011 was £1.45 trillion. This is £7.2 billion or 0.5% lower than in March 2010. The stock of secured debt has risen over this period by only £2.6 billion or 0.2%, while unsecured debt – also known as consumer credit – has fallen £9.9 billion or 4.5%. These figures help to reinforce the message that British households continue to consolidate their financial positions.
Latest data shows UK economy still sluggish Euronews (4/5/11)
Bank reveals weal lending on mortgages City A.M., Julian Harris (5/5/11)
Mortgage lending plummets by 60% Belfast Telegraph (5/5/11)
Mortgage lending down as borrowers repay debt thisismoney.co.uk (4/5/11)
Average UK household owes more than £50,000 in debts Mirror, Tricia Phillips (6/5/11)
Lending data are available from the Bank of England’s statistics publication, Monetary and Financial Statistics (Bankstats) (See Tables A5.2-A5.7).
- What is the difference between gross lending and net lending?
- What do you understand by a negative net lending number?
- What is the difference between net secured lending and net unsecured lending?
- What factors do you think help to explain the recent weakness in net lending?
- How would you expect the net lending figures in a year’s time to compare with those now?
- As of 31 March 2011, UK households had accumulated a stock of debt of £1.45 trillion. In what ways could we put this figure into context? Should we as economists be concerned?
- It is said that households are consolidating their financial position. What do you understand by this term and what factors have driven this consolidation?
- What are the implications for the wider economy of households consolidating their financial position?
There is a new craze sweeping across nations. We might call it the Consolidation Conga! Across the world, and, in particular Europe, government after government seems to be announcing plans to cut its budget deficit. But, with so much focus on governments’ plans for fiscal consolidation it would be all too easy to ignore evidence of consolidation in other sectors too. In the UK, the household sector continues to show a zest for the consolidation of its own finances.
Figures from the Bank of England show that during April net unsecured lending, i.e. lending through credit cards, overdrafts and personal loans less repayments, was again in negative territory, this time to the tune of £136 million. This means that the repayment of unsecured debt exceeded new unsecured lending by £136 million. When an allowance is made for unsecured debt ‘written off’ by financial institutions, we find that the stock of unsecured debt fell by £827 million.
April’s fall in the stock of unsecured debt means that the household sector’s stock of unsecured debt has now fallen for 11 months in a row. Over this period the stock of unsecured debt has fallen by £11.47 billion or by 4.9%. Some of this fall is clearly attributable to the ‘writing off’ of bad debts since net unsecured lending has been negative in only 6 of these 11 months. However, this should not detract from our central message of a consolidation by households of their finances. Indeed, the sum of net unsecured lending over these 11 months is -£459 million. In other words, over the period from June 2009 to April 2010 the household sector made a net repayment of unsecured debt of some £459 million.
While the stock of unsecured debt has fallen by £11.47 billion since last June to stand at £220.77 billion in April 2010, the household sector’s overall stock of debt has fallen too, although only by £178 million to £1,459.5 billion. The much smaller decrease in total debt reflects an increase in the stock of mortgage debt by £11.291 billion over the same period. But, there are two points to make here. Firstly, it is difficult to over-play the fact that the overall stock of household debt has fallen. If we look at the Bank of England’s monthly series which goes back to April 1993, the first monthly fall in the total stock of debt did not occur until October 2008. In other words, the norm has simply been for total household debt to increase.
The second point to make is that the growth in secured debt has slowed markedly. The stock of secured debt in April was only 0.9% higher than a year earlier. But, more than this, the Bank of England’s Housing Equity Withdrawal numbers show that since the second quarter of 2008 the household sector’s stock of secured borrowing has increased by less than we would have expected given the additional housing investment, i.e. money spent on moving costs, the purchase of newly built properties or expenditure on major home improvements. This has resulted in what we know as negative Housing Equity Withdrawal (HEW). This again is evidence that households too are consolidating.
The desire for the household sector to consolidate and to reduce its exposure to debt is pretty understandable, especially given these uncertain times. But, as we discuss in Has the tide turned for Keynesianism?, there are dangers for national and global aggregate demand of mass consolidation. It remains to be seen if we can really afford for so many to be dancing the Consolidation Conga!
Housing market on a knife edge with no sign of sustained recovery in lending Independent, David Prosser (3/6/10)
UK mortgage lending edges higher BBC News (2/6/10)
Mortgage data raise housing recovery fears Financial Times, Norma Cohen (2/6/10)
Mixed lending data point to stagnant housing markets Reuters (2/6/10)
Mortgage approvals slightly higher Press Association (3/6/10)
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 does a negative net lending figure indicate?
- If net lending is negative does this mean that the stock of debt is falling?
- What factors might be driving households to consolidate their finances?
- Discuss the potential economic benefits and dangers of households consolidating their finances.
- Of what significance is the extent of the household sector’s consolidation of its finances for: (i) the government and (ii) the Bank of England?