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Households less vulnerable to economic shocks

Jan 03 2017 17:57
Lameez Omarjee

Johannesburg – Declining household debt has reduced households’ vulnerability to economic and interest rate shocks. As a result, consumer financial stress is not as high as levels reported during the global financial crisis in 2008 and 2009.

This is according to FNB’s consumer and retail barometer released on Tuesday. The report stated that household sector debt to disposable income ratio declined to 74% in the third quarter of 2016. This is down from an all-time high of 87.8%, reported in the first quarter of 2008.

Contributing factors to the decline in household debt include cautious borrowing by consumers and more stringent lending requirements by banks and financial institutions.

In the reportJohn Loos, household and property sector strategist at FNB, explained that lower consumer stress was also as a result of the current economic slowdown not being as “severe” as that experienced during the global financial crisis. “Nor has the interest rate hiking cycle been of the same magnitude as that of 2006 to 2008,” he added.

According to the South African Reserve Bank quarterly bulletin for the third quarter of 2016, household disposable income increased from 1.7% to 2%, but households still felt financial pressure. Household expenditure increased at a slower pace and households were reluctant to take on more debt. Growth in household debt declined significantly from 75.1% to 64%.

READ: Financial pressures hurt SA's household savings

“We do expect household credit growth to remain subdued through the year at rates where we could see further gradual decline in the Household Sector Debt-to-Disposable Income Ratio,” added Loos.

Even though lower debt levels are helping households withstand economic pressures, poor household savings remains a concern. Household savings as a percentage of gross domestic product fell from 1.2% in the second quarter to 1.1% in the third quarter. The net savings rate in the third quarter was still negative at -0.8% of disposable income, weaker than the previous quarter’s -0.6%.

Other risks to households include possible tax rate hikes. Weak economic growth has resulted in an under collection of tax. In 2004 personal and wealth taxes on households were estimated at 10.9%; by 2015 these rates increased to 15.5%.  A further increase is expected in 2017, added Loos.

Rising unemployment rates pose another risk. In an effort to curb rising unemployment rates, wage increases may also be contained. “That seems like a significant constraint on the consumer to come, and consumer financial constraints have already been seen in weak retail sales growth numbers late in 2016,” said Loos.

There is also a risk of negative per capita disposable income growth, which will add to spending constraints for households.

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interest rates  |  tax  |  economy  |  savings  |  debt


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