Declining income pushed a national measure of Canadian household debt to a record high in the three months ended in September, Statistics Canada reported Monday.
The proportion of what Canadians owed on their mortgages, loans and credit cards to their after-tax income grew to 148.1 per cent, even as families slowed the increase in their debt.
That was its highest on records going back to 1990 and compared to 143.4 per cent in the previous quarter.
The main reason was a 1.5 per cent drop in average after-tax income across the country.
Household debt grew by 6.7 per cent from levels a year ago, slower than the 7.3 per cent pace at the start of the year, but still almost twice that of the growth rate in incomes.
Household net worth — assets minus debt — grew by 2.7 per cent, or $162 billion, to $6.1 trillion after a decline of 0.5 per cent in the spring.
That reflected the growth in the value of investments in shares, mutual funds, and pension and insurance savings that was mirrored by the 9.5 per cent increase in the Toronto Stock Exchange's benchmark S&P/TSX composite index in the third quarter, the federal agency said.
Home values also appreciated, with real estate assets and land gaining 1.2 per cent in the quarter and 6.1 per cent over the year.
On average, household net worth per person rose from $174,500 to 178,600.
Net worth rose by its slowest pace since the end of the recession, increasing by 5.6 per cent from a year earlier.
House equity at 8-year low
The percentage amount by which house values exceeded mortgage debt edged down to its lowest level in eight years, continuing a downward trend over the last three years.
On Dec. 9, the Bank of Canada warned that the risks of another recession are growing, given Europe's debt crisis, widening gaps between exports and imports among countries, and that Canadians, with their high levels of debt, may not be prepared for it.
"While household net worth continues to improve, it is growing at half the pace experienced in the three years prior to the recession," Diana Petramala, an economist with TD Economics, said in a commentary.
Given expected gains in investments and real estate assets of more than five to six per cent over the next few years, she said, "we believe that an appropriate level of household-debt-to-income is in the range of 138 per cent to 142 per cent."
If interest rates rise, and at current levels of debt, Canadians' ability to increase their savings "will be a bit more of a challenge in the future," Petramala said.