- When examining debt levels in the UK, there is government debt – measured by public sector borrowing (often referred to as National debt). See: UK National Debt.
- We also have private sector debt which is composed of personal loans, personal mortgages, business debts, and debts of the financial sector.
- Total Debt includes both private sector debt plus government debt.
- Private sector debt can be split up into
- Household debt – personal loans
- Non-Finance corporates – Company debts
- Financial – debts of banks and financial corporations
Total UK debt
Total UK debt increased sharply in period 1994-2007.
Since 2008, there has been a fall in household debt as a % of GDP – as households cut back debt levels. (note GDP also fell in this period)
Financial sector debt has stayed constant at 200% of GDP.
- Total UK debt is 500% of GDP in mid 2012
- The largest component of debt is from the financial sector.
- The deleveraging is greater than may appear from the statistics. Although debt levels have remained flat, this is against the backdrop of falling real incomes.
Compare experience of US – where total debt fell in period 2009-12.
Overall Indebtedness in Developed Economies
Source: Debt and Deleveraging pdf at McKinsey
The UK has seen the biggest rise in total UK debt in past 20 years. Only Japan is slightly higher.
Private Sector Debt
UK total debt is forecast to rise to £10 trillion by 2015.
- There are big differences between different types of debt, e.g. mortgage debt has low risk of default and is secured against value of asset. In boom years, some of banks debt was highly risky and highly leveraged with little or no security. When credit crisis came, they were short of money and couldn’t get loans bank.
- The high level of debt by UK financial institutions is also a reflection of the size of the finance sector relative to the size of the UK economy.
- Since 2008, UK consumers have reduced debt levels. However, the fall in GDP has meant the decline in debt as a % of GDP has been limited.
- Low interest rates have made debt repayments relatively manageable. But, if interest rates were to rise, it would be more serious.
- Bond yields are low on UK government debt
- The recession led to a big fall in consumer spending as banks and consumers tried to pay off debt, this decline in private sector spending caused an increase in government borrowing. This increase in government borrowing helped to prevent a bigger fall in aggregate demand and more serious recession.
Long Term Impact of High Debt Levels
To improve debt position, consumers try to increase overall savings.
What does this debt mean?
- In the current climate, the high debt overhang, will curtail investment and spending. As firms, banks and consumers try to improve their debt position, it will lead to lower demand in the economy. This is exacerbated by government spending cuts as it tries to improve its own fiscal position.
- International comparisons are not everything. UK and Japan have the highest total debt levels, but they are not facing higher bond yields like in Italy and Spain.
- The size of the financial sector inflates the UK total debt, and it should be remembered it is important to compare to assets. But, high debt levels are significant.
- The high level of debt is one reason why it has been so difficult to get out of recession. It bears all the hallmarks of a balance sheet recession.
- The policy of quantitative easing has helped to a limited extent offset the fall in private sector spending. However, it monetary policy has been fairly limited.
- To a small extent, Inflation in the UK has also been ‘inflating away our debts‘