Debt in Australia, Monetary Policy

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8 March 2016

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It is imperative that the Australian households’ debt have noticeably risen over the past two decades, and is currently rated high according to international standards. The sharp increase in housing debt has been the reason for the rise in the household debt. Increased availability of housing finance, strong demand for debt from investors, and lower interest rates are the main drivers of the rising housing debt. The households’ net worth and servicing ratios will be discussed in this paper as the impacts on the higher household debt levels. The impacts of the instability in global capital markets will be discussed in this paper in relation to the housing finance market in Australia. Lastly, the implications of the rising household debt will be discussed in relation to the financial stability and monetary policy.

Trends in household debt

It is important to note that Australian households had a fairly stable ratio of debt to disposable income at approximately 45% during the 1980s. However, rapid rise in the ratio of debt to disposable income was recorded since 1990, with it reaching optimum of 157% in December 2007. The bulk of the increase was accounted for by the housing debt, that is, over the period, the ratio of the housing debt to disposable income rose to 134% from 31%. It was also recorded over the same period, a rise in the ratio of personal debt to disposable income to 22% from 13%. A sharp rise in the ratio of debts to assets was recorded at 17% in December 2007, from 8% in December 1989 (Wilkins & Wooden, 2009).

A sharp rise in household indebtedness in a number of advanced economies has been witnessed over the last two decades. It is however, noted that the increase in household debt in Australia is pronounced. The Australia’s ratio in household debt to income was recorded as the highest in December 2007 despite Australia recording as one of the countries with the household debt lowest ratio to disposable income among advanced economies in the late 1980s. It is also imperative to point out that among advanced economies; Australia rose from the bottom position to the middle number in terms of the ratio of household debt to assets over the same period (Berry & Dalton, 2009).

Housing finance market

Focus on the housing finance market is emphasized in this paper because the housing debt in households’ total debt is dominant. An average of 15% in the annual growth in housing debt was recorded since 1990. In the periods, 1988-1989, 1994, and 2002-2004 strong growth in housing debt was recorded. This strong growth in the growth in housing debt was faster than the growth in the disposable income of households over the same period that stood at an average of 6% only (Berry & Dalton, 2009).

Significant growth in house prices accompanied the sharp increase in the housing debt. Over the period 1987 and 1988, the house prices doubled, however, during the first half of the 1990s the house prices drifted slowly higher, with the house prices doubling more between 1997 and late 2003. Continuous increase in aggregate house prices was recorded since late 2003; however, the trend varies markedly across the country, for instance, house prices in Perth increased strongly, while the house prices in Sydney decreased over time. The boom in resources supports the varied trends in house prices across the country (Berry & Dalton, 2009).

A number of factors accounts to the rising house debt in Australia over the past years, with lower interest rates accounting for high borrowing by the households whenever they take their housing loan out. This trend has been responsible for the rise in the average size of new loans, which results into the rise in the average size of outstanding loans over time. The availability of housing finance has resulted into the rise in the capacity of households to borrow finances (Wilkins & Wooden, 2009).

Financial health of households

It is noted that the historic sharp increase in the Australia’s disposable income in December 2007 was accounted by the strong rise in the housing debt in Australia over the past fifteen years. It was however, pointed out that only a few households had difficulties in repaying their debt obligations, despite the historic sharp increase in the housing debt in December 2007 (Berry & Dalton, 2009).

Impact of the turbulence in global capital market

It is significant to note that the housing finance market in Australia has suffered greatly as a result of the global capital markets’ turbulence. This is because half of the total funding for financial institutions in Australia is accounted for by the deposits. The foreign and domestic capital markets the balance in the Australian financial institutions. There has been significant rise in the mortgage rates, and significant change in the markets shares from lenders, due to this, there is limited restriction to the overall supply of housing finance (Berry & Dalton, 2009).

Significant reduction in some forms of capital market funding as well as significant rise in the most of the forms of capital market funding have resulted from the turbulence in the financial market. It is however, noted that the impact of the financial market turbulence have been felt in a number of securitization markets. Securitization markets over the past decade or so, have established itself into as a significant source of funding for housing loans in Australia. In mid 2007 for example, outstanding securitization housing finance loans had accounted for 23% (Wilkins & Wooden, 2009).

This was a significant rise from the mid 1990s 5% housing finance loans that were securitized. A number of loans from mortgage originators were being securitized. Institutions like credit union, regional banks, and building societies had adopted securitization of their loans since it was a cost effective way of wholesale funding (Wilkins & Wooden, 2009).

The onset of the global financial turbulence in July 2007, led to significant close of the securitization market. There were significant rise prime residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) to 75 basis points in December 2007 from approximately 15 basis points in mid-2007. It is imperative to point out that Australia’s Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities (RMBS) accounted for the issuance of a number of Australian Asset-backed Securities (ABS) that extends on AAA-rated senior tranches (Berry & Dalton, 2009).

There was significant spread in the subordinated AAA-rated tranches that increased to approximately 110 basis points from approximately 20 basis points. It is significant to point out that despite the sharp increase in the spreads, investors in Australia has never encountered losses on rated Australian RMBS, coupled with the housing market in Australia remaining healthy. The investors have become more concerned with the product itself, as discounts are attached to all the sales of securitized products. The selling of residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) by several structured investment vehicles (SIVs) has also created excess supply in the secondary market (Berry & Dalton, 2009).

Implications for financial stability and monetary policy

It significant to point out the access to credit by the household sector has greatly increased courtesy of financial innovation and deregulation. The households in Australia have become more comfortable to take loans owing to the ongoing strong performance of the economy (Berry & Dalton, 2009).  The balance sheets of households have remained in good health despite the significant rise in the household debt; this has resulted into significant rise in asset-value capable of offsetting the rise in debt. It is also significant to note that macroeconomic conditions in the economy are also favorable.



Berry, M., & Dalton, T. (2009). Mortgage default in Australia nature, causes and social and economic impacts. Melbourne: AHURI.

Wilkins, R., & Wooden, M. (2009). Household Debt In Australia: The Looming Crisis That Isn’t. Australian Economic Review , 42(3), 358-366.



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