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Debt Ratios Decline

Financial Market releases report

June 14, 2007


photo of Coco Salazar

Residential appreciation, mortgage debt expansion and debt ratios all declined in the latest quarter, a new report said.

In the first quarter, as economic growth slowed to a crawl, decreased growth in mortgage debt and residential real estate values once again played a significant role in the movement of several indicators of housing financial conditions, according to the report released Wednesday by the Financial Market Center.

Household net worth grew at a "relatively restrained" rate of 4.4 percent after expanding by 9.6 percent in the previous quarter, the first quarter Household Financial Conditions report stated.

Among the factors limiting gains in net worth was ongoing softness in residential property value, which grew only 3.6 percent in the first three months of the year -- the smallest upturn since the fourth quarter 1995 -- and underscores the "end of an era in which home prices rose at an exceptional rate," Financial Markets said. Residential property value accounted for only 28.1 percent of the total growth in household net worth in the first quarter -- sliding from the 37.3 share that prevailed for the 57-year period through 2006.

Meanwhile, weakened housing demand and the Federal Reserve's "relatively restrictive monetary policy" contributed to new home mortgage borrowing increased by just 6.2 percent in the first quarter -- the smallest quarterly increase since 1998, according to the report.

As a result of new mortgage borrowing growth outpacing gains in housing values, homeowners' equity continued to decrease in relation to the value of household real estate. The ratio went down to a new low of 52.7 percent in the first quarter from 52.9 percent in the linked quarter, representing the 23rd decline out of 24 quarters since March 31, 2001.

Also, the first-quarter ratio of outstanding household debt to total household assets remained at an "exceptionally high level" of 18.6 percent.

However, household debt-service ratios decreased to 14.33 percent at the end of March from 14.49 percent at yearend 2006. While the payments on outstanding mortgage and consumer debt as a percentage of disposable income are slightly above 14.29 percent a year earlier and remain relatively high by historical means, the 16 basis-point-quarterly downturn was the largest quarterly decline since the third quarter 2001, when the economy absorbed the terrorist attacks.

Another positive was that the ratio of debt accumulation to disposable income continued to fall in the first three months of the year and helped improve households' net financial investment position, the report indicated.

Coco Salazar is an associate editor and staff writer for MortgageDaily.com.

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