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Consumer debt continued to rise in Q4 but new mortgages declined: Equifax

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Canadians took out fewer new mortgages even before interest rates began to rise last week, but consumer debt continued to increase in the fourth quarter, Equifax said in a report.

The company said Monday the number of new mortgages fell 8.1 per cent year over year in the last three months of 2021. The biggest drop was in some of the country’s hottest housing markets with Toronto and Hamilton falling 16.1 and 18.7 per cent, respectively.

“There’s no question that skyrocketing house prices have decreased housing affordability across all segments,” said Rebecca Oakes, assistant vice-president of advanced analytics at Equifax Canada in a news release.

“In addition to high house prices, lenders have also started to move interest rates up in anticipation of rate rises from the Bank of Canada. This could also be limiting the purchasing capacity of many consumers.”

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The Bank of Canada hiked its benchmark rate by a quarter of a percentage point to 0.50 per cent last week with more increases expected later this year.

The average new mortgage loan increased 10.1 per cent from the fourth quarter of 2020 to $355,000, but dropped 1.5 per cent from the third quarter for the first decrease since the pandemic began.

Oakes said this may be a sign of average home prices stabilizing, although continued demand and lack of supply could lead to further rises in the property prices.

Equifax also says total consumer debt rose 7.9 per cent compared with a year earlier to $2.2 trillion as credit card spending in the fourth quarter was up 14.4 per cent from a year earlier and up 9.8 per cent from the third quarter.

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Consumers spent an average of $2,205 per month on their cards in the fourth quarter, up 15.2 per cent from the year-ago period and 6.8 per cent above the pre-pandemic level in the fourth quarter of 2019.

“The holiday period always leads to an increase in spending, but Q4 2021 saw higher than ever average credit card spending per credit card consumer,” said Oakes.

A drop in auto loans because of supply chain issues was a positive contributor.

Equifax said overall credit card balances were up 2.4 per cent compared with the fourth quarter of 2020.

Overall delinquencies remained low with mortgage delinquency at 0.11 per cent and non-mortgage delinquency at 0.86 per cent, for year-over-year drops of 31.8 per cent and 20.7 per cent, respectively.

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