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JONATHAN HAYWARD/The Canadian Press

Canadian household debt reached a record high at the end of last year even as mortgage activity slowed, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. said in a report out Wednesday.

The debt-to-income ratio of Canadians hit a record high of 178.5 per cent in the fourth quarter last year as mortgage holders continued to take on nonmortgage debt.

The ratio increased as average monthly required payments rose 4.5 per cent compared with a year earlier, while disposable income rose only 2.5 per cent, the agency said.

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Debt levels rose as average balances for credit cards and lines of credit grew at a faster pace than in 2017, especially in Vancouver, Edmonton and Toronto, it said.

Delinquency rates, however, remain low and stable, CMHC senior market analyst Geneviève Lapointe said in the report.

“Despite high debt levels, delinquency rates remain low and the number of highly indebted and more vulnerable consumers has decreased.”

The mortgage delinquency rate came in at 0.3 per cent, up 0.01 of a percentage point, while the share of mortgages held by those with credit scores below 600 continued to trend lower.

The total number of new mortgages issued in the quarter came in at 223,000, down 4.8 per cent from a year earlier.

The slower volume came as the market slowed and average prices fell on slightly higher interest rates, slower economic growth and stricter mortgage regulations.

The new mortgage regulations, which set higher stress-tests for would-be borrowers in an effort to slow the market, have come under criticism in some corners for making real estate less accessible.

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The International Monetary Fund said Tuesday that Canada should maintain the regulations because household debt remains high, and a gradual slowdown in the housing market is desirable.

The average value of new loans in the quarter was 3.8 per cent lower than a year ago at $264,000 as house prices remain historically elevated, while the average value of all mortgages rose 3.1 per cent to $209,570 in the quarter, the CMHC said.

The agency said debt issues are increasing for older consumers as the share of mortgage holders 55 and older continues to grow. It said mortgage delinquency rates in the 65-and-above age group have been rising and have been the highest of all age groups since late 2015, while still relatively low.

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