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PETALING JAYA: While a stronger economic outlook is seen in the current quarter with the reopening of businesses, household debt remains a concern.
To be sure, the household debt-to-gross domestic product (GDP) ratio is expected to improve from last year’s figure of 93.2% due to improvement in economic growth.
However, the economy could face headwinds as Covid-19 remains as an immediate risk although new positive cases of Covid-19 have stabilised.
The ratio denotes total household borrowings as a proportion of the size of the economy measured by the GDP, which is the total value of goods and services produced in the economy in a year.
Furthermore, economists said that the lower-income group was still financially stretched from the effects of the pandemic.
The country’s GDP growth is projected to be lower at between 3% and 4% from an earlier estimate of between 6% and 7.5% year-on-year (y-o-y).
AmBank's Anthony Dass
The household debt-to-GDP ratio moderated to 89.6% as at end-June 2021 from a high of 93.2% as at end-December 2020.
In the first quarter (Q1) of this year, purchases of residential properties accounted for about 56% of debt accumulation, followed by personal use (14.2%) and purchases of cars (12.3%).
AmBank Group chief economist Anthony Dass told StarBiz that the risk of rising household debt remains. “Fears are that the economy could potentially mirror a trend of the scenario during the 2008 Global Financial Crisis (GFC), where cheap loans enticed borrowers into a cycle of debt-fuelled growth that drove economic expansion but increased household debt significantly.
“During the GFC, household debt jumped from 72.4% of GDP in 2009 to a worrying 86.94% as at end-2015.
“This resulted in Bank Negara imposing a series of measures aimed at curbing the rise,” said Dass, who is also a member of the Economic Action Council Secretariat.
He added that in 2020 due to the pandemic and the unprecedented measures to contain the virus spread, the domestic economy collapsed by 5.6%.
Apart from stimulus measures, there were also cheap interest rates and loan moratorium. Still household debt-to-GDP climbed to 93.3%, he pointed out.
For 2021, Dass said expectations are for the household debt-to-GDP ratio to ease.
In Q1 of this year, it eased to 89.6%.
Still during that period, Malaysia was the third highest nation in Asia where household debt is concerned, after South Korea (107.6%) and Thailand (90.6%).
While expectations are for the household debt to ease further in Q2 driven by strong growth, Dass feels this trend may not last due to the rise in Covid-19 cases that had resulted in the imposition of the movement control order (MCO) 3.0.