We've heard it all before: Canadian households are tapped out and can't afford to take on new debt.
But what you rarely hear is a distinction of the different types of debt involved in this calculation. We often focus on mortgages because housing has been so hot, and don't pay much attention to things like credit cards, home equity lines and auto lending.
In part, this is because mortgages are such a major financial burden, but it also stems from another problem: there isn't much granular detail on these other types of borrowing. The Canadian Bankers' Association, for instance, releases quarterly delinquency data for credit cards, but it can't be broken down by geography.
To solve the problem, Moody's Analytics teamed up with Equifax Canada to analyze non-mortgage debt. The verdict: we're still borrowing. Canadians' non-mortgage debt amounted to $325-billion in 2007; today it's just shy of $500-billion.
And though the growth rate has fallen to about 4 per cent a year, down from 16 per cent before the financial crisis, it's still a positive number.
Where's the growth coming from? Mostly auto lending, climbing at a 10 per cent clip. This confirms reporting by the Globe's Grant Robertson and Greg Keenan that the banks have waged an intense war in the auto lending market.
Credit card balances, by contrast, are relatively flat and things like bank instalments and credit lines tied to home equity are actually falling.
Looking forward, though, it's hard to predict if auto borrowing will continue to grow so quickly. The current numbers stem from a slowdown in auto purchases during the recession and no one knows if the market will cool once buyers catch up on delayed purchases.
Moody's and Equifax found another interesting tidbit: while credit card balances aren't doing much overall, the banks are still much more prone to lend to highly qualified borrowers and continue to pull the reins on riskier borrowers. This makes obvious sense, but proves that financial institutions are still cautious about the economic recovery.
And the authors suggest there's something else at play: "These borrowers are also more likely to use their cards for transactional convenience rather than financing purchases."
As for geography, the provinces seeing the fastest growth in terms of new credit card openings are Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba. And the lowest credit scores are in the country's north – the exact opposite trend of the what you see in the U.S.
Another interesting tidbit: Saskatchewan looks like it's the safest province for credit cards, posting both extremely lower delinquencies and bankruptcies.
(Tim Kiladze is a Globe and Mail Reporter.)
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