Monday 16 September 2019

Average household now worth record €444,000 - but most of extra wealth tied up in property


Stock picture
Stock picture

David Chance

Household wealth has been propelled to an all-time high, thanks to profits from financial markets and savings as well as the value of owning a home.

But given that most of the extra wealth is locked up in the value of houses, the average Irish man, woman or child is probably not actually feeling any richer.

The Central Bank said household net worth hit €772bn at the end of the first quarter of this year, which it said equates to €158,986 per person, or roughly €444,000 per household.

The rise came despite a drop in house prices for two consecutive quarters which lopped €2bn off our collective wealth, the report said.

Still, the data does represent yet another milestone in the recovery from the financial crisis, and also reflects rising employment and wages which have helped many households pay down their debts.

The numbers released by the bank also appear to tell us that the scars of the crisis have not been erased.

The crash pushed the State close to bankruptcy and saw almost 100,0000 borrowers fall behind on their mortgage payments.

Household borrowing now stands at its lowest level since 2005 and fell by €0.6bn in the quarter to €136.9bn, or €28,186 per person - a figure that is equivalent to 119.8pc of household income.

The decline in the borrowing ratios was helped by a 2.2pc rise in disposable income, according to the Central Bank report,

Household debt hit a peak of €202.9bn in the third quarter of 2008 on the eve of the collapse. This followed the debt-fuelled boom years, a period of reckless lending by banks and borrowing by consumers.

As a result of the crisis, net worth fell by more than €18,000 per household between 2011 and 2015, the largest amount in the European Union.

New rules from the Central Bank here have since imposed strict caps on mortgage borrowing, and household debt levels are now a third lower than their peak.

The first-quarter numbers may, however, represent the peak for some time to come, as many economists say there will be more house price falls this year.

In addition, the prospect of renewed interest rate cuts from the European Central Bank this year looks set to erode the already paltry return on savings deposits.

Meanwhile, stock markets are selling off sharply as the world economy slows down and a trade war between the United States and China intensifies.

According to the Central Bank data, the majority of investments held by households were in currency and deposits, and in insurance financial products.

Irish Independent

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