Canada's household credit is on pace to grow at its slowest rate in a decade, according to a new report released Thursday.
CIBC Economics estimates that Canadians will add approximately four per cent to their outstanding debt — all from new mortgages — in 2011. If correct, that would be smallest rise in personal borrowings since 2002, according to CIBC economist Benjamin Tal and the author of the report.
"In fact, inflation-adjusted non-mortgage consumer credit is now rising at the slowest pace since the early 1990s," Tal wrote.
Cutting up the plastic
That trend would be welcome news for the Bank of Canada. In the recent past, Bank Governor Mark Carney has publicly warned Canadians about the threat from building up too much individual debt, especially if interest rates rise late in 2011 to reduce inflation.
Tal calculated that the slowdown in national consumer credit has been driven by Canadians opening fewer lines of credit, up only six per cent. That is the smallest increase on record.
As well, growth in outstanding credit cards has been minimal, Tal reported, up less than one per cent in the year. Here, new limits imposed on borrowers by the card companies have crimped any debt increase in this area.
The one growth area — home mortgages — is where accumulated debt is rising at a 1.8 per cent clip, or twice as fast as individual income growth, which stood at 0.9 per cent during the same period.
But, rising mortgage debt was mitigated by the concurrent rise in the value of assets held by Canadians, according to the CIBC.
That means the worth of an individual's house and that person's stock and bond portfolio is increasing at approximately the same pace as his or her mortgage debt is growing.
"While debt is still rising faster than income, it is not rising faster than assets. The net worth position of Canadians has improved in the first quarter in absolute terms and relative to income," Tal said.