Credit booms generate economic and financial imbalances. The longer a boom lasts, and the more extreme the expansion, the greater these will be.
The results show up in balance sheets and income statements. Whether it’s an individual household, economic sector or the external position of a country, that entity’s financial statements tell the tale.
In Australia’s case, sectoral debt figures show remarkably divergent trends in credit growth.
At 73.1%, non-financial business debt as a percentage of GDP is only 7% higher than in 1988. The high point in the intervening years was 85.6% in Sept 2007. General government debt (federal and state combined) actually declined, from 42.1% in 1988 to 22.7% now. Prior to the crisis, it hit a low of 13.4%.
The real action was in the household sector, where debt to GDP started at 42% in 1988 and is now 109.7%.
In international terms, Australia’s non-financial business debt is middle-of-the-pack, our government debt perhaps the lowest in the developed world but our households rank near the top. There are countries with higher levels (Switzerland, for example, at 118% in 2007), but there aren’t many of them. Continue reading “Australia’s Mixed Diagnosis”