According to a recent report by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, aka the OECD, Canada now has the highest household debt level per GDP in the world.
Canadian household debt is now greater than the national GDP, at 101% of GDP. As a brief refresher, GDP, or Gross Domestic Product, is the total of all goods and services – essentially everything – that is produced by a country; that is, everything produced within a nation’s borders.
The gap between Canada and the next-highest country on the list (South Korea), is roughly 8 per cent, as South Korea’s Debt-to-GDP mark of 93 per cent.
Economic powerhouses United Kingdom and United States post Debt-to-GDP levels of 88 per cent and 80 per cent, respectively; meanwhile, Germany’s Debt-to-GDP is below 60 per cent.
Why does this matter, you might ask? After all, this means that Canadians are spending money and driving the economy! This is only partly true. Yes, spending is good (to an extent); however, spending at this level can be risky.
Think about it like this: when stock markets like the TSX, S&P 500, NASDAQ, etc are increasing (recovery and expansion periods of the economic cycle), carrying debt is helpful. Debt allows companies the liquidity needed to purchase inventory, make capital investments (new bricks & mortar locations) and hire employees. But when the market starts declining and recessions hit, the companies that have over-extended themselves generally are hit the hardest.
Increasing interest rates heavily affect companies that are carrying debt, as all debt has a set interest rate. Revolving credit, such as lines of credit and credit cards, generally has an interest rate set as “prime + some additional amount”. So, when revenues start to decrease, during contractionary periods, while debt payment requirements begin to increase, companies carrying heavy debt loads can find themselves with a cash crunch.
The average family, in many ways, is synonymous with an average company, in that they have revenue (net income), they have debts (mortgage, car loan, line of credit, etc) and they must ensure they have liquidity to make it all work. The risk to families is camouflaged when things are going well, everyone is employed, and rates are low; however, the risk presents itself when rates increase (as they have twice since July), the economy slows down, and perhaps one – or both – of the family breadwinners suddenly find themselves out of work.
With all of this said, it is no surprise that the OECD has pointed out that such high indebtedness levels across the country is a risk to the economy. It is also no surprise that the soaring Debt-to-GDP has been linked to the red hot real estate markets across the nation.
The OECD stated in their report: “research points to a number of links between high indebtedness and the risks of severe recessions.” We are only about a decade removed from the U.S. housing crisis and resulting “Great Recession.”
Former British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill famously said: “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” So, how can we learn from the past?
One of the most important things a family can do is create a budget. The budget must be feasible, it must be achievable, and it must allow for some fun.
A good budget should include some liquid savings account for emergency funds, travel funds, and the like. This way, when that emergency strikes, and you need cash in a pinch, there is a pool of money ready to deploy. Many people who do not have an emergency savings fund have to resort to drawing upon a line of credit. This will add to your debt load in a hurry.
If you do not have a budget in place, we can work with you to create one that is customized to your unique situation. If you have an interest in getting a budget on paper, please don’t hesitate to let us know!