Australians find silver lining in lockdowns as wealth booms

SYDNEY, (Reuters) – Australians are finding a silver lining to lockdowns as super-cheap credit lifts the value of homes and shares to record highs, a windfall of wealth that gives consumers the means to spend big once restrictions ease.

Figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics out on Thursday showed net household wealth surged A$735 billion ($531.48 billion) in the June quarter to A$13.3 trillion, or A$522,032 for every man, woman and child.

“Aussie households have never been wealthier,” said Ryan Felsman, a senior economist at CommSec. “While wage growth remains tepid, the value of assets is surging, supported primarily by record-low interest rates and government pandemic stimulus measures.”

CBA economists estimate households have squirreled away A$230 billion in excess savings during lockdown, giving them liquidity to spend on top of their assets.

The number one asset has easily been real estate, with housing values growing by A$576 billion in the June quarter as low mortgage rates and the shift to working from home sent prices spiralling higher.

Coronavirus lockdowns in Sydney and Melbourne have only fuelled this trend, with house prices rising strongly in those cities July and August.

Gains in equity markets also saw pension and share holdings rise by A$130 billion in the quarter to a gross A$4.7 trillion, while households held a further A$1.3 trillion in cash and bank deposits.

All of which helped offset a A$47 billion increase in debt to A$2.5 trillion. That left household balance sheets looking healthy on paper, though policy makers are concerned that debt is growing faster than incomes which cannot be sustained indefinitely.

The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) this week warned that the build-up of debt could pose a risk to financial stability and may need to be restrained by tighter lending rules.