Friday, November 17, 2017

Digging into the detail of the household sector accounts

The CSO have published the Institutional Sector Accounts, Non-Financial and Financial, for 2016.  These are very useful datasets and the sectors included have been further broken down.  For the household sector we now have separate account for households and non-profit institutions serving households while the non-financial corporate sector has been usefully split out in large, foreign-owned NFCs and other NFCs.  We will come back to these.  Here we will focus on developments in the household sector. 

First, here is the current account in all its gory glory.  Most of the figures come from the CSO release but some of the breakdowns are only available from Eurostat so will be updated for 2016 in due course.  Some of these breakdowns have been crudely adjusted to fit the revised total published by the CSO but the broad changes are correct.  Only figures with published outturns for 2016 are given an annual change in the final column. Click to enlarge and also get rid of the fuzziness it seems.

Household Sector Current Account 2012-2016a

An more palatable abridged version with only updated figures is reproduced here.  Gross disposable income is estimated to have grown by 3.9 per cent in 2016 to reach €92.6 billion with consumption expenditure rising a touch more at 4.1 per cent.  Both of these growth rates are largely unchanged from the preliminary estimates.  This means that the gross savings rate for 2016 was little changed from what it was in 2015 with the final row of the table showing figures of around 7 per cent for both years.

However, while the growth rates of income and consumption may be little changed, the level of gross savings of the household sector has been significantly revised down from the preliminary estimates.  The Q4 ISAs put it at €11,714 million and we can see above that it is now put at €6,386 million.

We examined these revisions here and note that the relate to the line right at the very top of the household current account: gross value added.  The level of output of the household sector, and in particular the self-employed, has been significantly revised down.  This means the estimate of the gross household savings rate for 2016 has gone from 11.5 per cent in the preliminary figures to 6.9 per cent now.  The savings rates have been revised down for all years since 2010.  There is no “right” savings rate but for 2016 these revisions seems to be a shift from one that seems a little high to one that seems a little low.  This has implications for forecasts of consumption growth relative to forecasts of income growth.

Anyway, that minor quibble aside the household current account is continuing to show solid improvement. We might have a new level but the output of households and the self-employed grew, in nominal terms, by 5.2 per cent in 2016 (though the extent that this is due to increases in imputed rentals for homeowners remains to be seen).  Compensation of employees received by the household sector grew by 5.4 per cent though there were declines in property income received. All in all gross national income of the household sector grew 4.9 per cent.

Taxes paid on income and wealth grew by 3.2 per cent while social contribution paid to the government (mainly PRSI and pension contributions by public sector employees) grew by 5.8%.  The lower growth of taxes on income reflects the impact of policy measures (primarily on USC) with PRSI growing in line with the increase in compensation of employees.  Social benefits received remained flat with €22.8 billion paid out by the government sector. 

Combine all these changes and we get to the 3.9 per cent increase is gross disposable income.  In line with this consumption grew by 4.1 per cent.  Consumption items growing by more than 10 per cent were the purchases of vehicles (+16%) and actual rents for housing (+13%).

All told, the household sector was left with gross savings of €6.4 billion in 2016 after all current items are accounted for.  We next turn to the capital account.

Household Sector Capital Accounts 2012-2016

In 2016 gross capital formation of the household sector was just under €8 billion which exceeds the gross savings that arose in the current account which means (after accounting for relatively minor amounts of capital taxes and transfers) that the household sector was a net borrower in 2016 of €1.4 billion.  This roughly means that household expenditure for current and capital purposes exceeded the income available to meet such expenditure.

We can see that this different significantly from 2012 when the household sector was a net lender to the tune of €4.8 billion.  The €6 billion change is roughly divided between a €3 billion reduction in gross savings from the current account and a €3 billion rise in gross capital formation in the capital account.  In order to cover its current and capital expenditure in 2016 the household sector was a net borrower.

We can try to get some insight into this shift from net lending to borrowing by looking at the financial transaction account.

Household Sector Financial Transaction Accounts 2012-2016

For most of the items the outcome of transactions over the past five years is what we would largely expect.  As the second last row shows over the past five years net financial transactions have increased household financial net worth by almost €16 billion.

In net terms, households have added nearly €11 billion to their deposits while net loan transaction (drawdowns minus repayments) have reduced loan liabilities by €27 billion.  We have continued to contribute a net two to three billion a year to insurance and pension reserves.

The standout figure is the minus €36 billion for equity transactions, of which €34 billion relates to unlisted shares.  It is these transactions that are hanging the financial account together.  In the final row of the table we can see that there are some differences between net financial transactions in the financial transaction account and net(borrowing)/lending in the capital account.  However, over then years these sum to less than €10 billion and are within the realms that they could be explained by re-valuations, write-offs or sales of non-financial assets to other sectors.

But without the minus €36 billion of equity transactions the plus €11 billion of net deposit transactions and minus €26 billion of net loan transactions would be hard to explain.  But how much of an explanation is it? What exactly was the €34 billion of unlisted shares that we sold (assuming that the minus figure for financial assets refers to their sale)?

Anyway, we can see how these transactions have impacted household net financial worth by looking at the financial balance sheet.  Click to enlarge.

Household Sector Financial Balance Sheet 2012-2016

The last line shows that the net financial worth of the household sector has increased by €76 billion over the past five years, rising from €133.8 billion at the end of 2012 to €209.9 billion at the end of 2016.  The final column shows that this is €60 billion more can be explained by net financial transactions (which as we saw were plus €16 billion).

Looking at the liability side of the balance sheet shows a fairly close comparison between changes in the stock of financial liabilities and net liability transactions.  Loan liabilities over the past five years fell by just over €30 billion so the minus €27 billion of transactions doesn’t leave much to be explained by re-valuations or write-offs.

But there seems to be lots going on on the financial asset side of the balance sheet.  The €10 billion rise in deposits closely matches the plus €11 billion of transactions.  However, insurance and pension reserves rose by €35.6 billion on the back of plus €12.8 billion of transactions.  The remaining €22.9 billion is due to revaluations which we can presume is linked is rising share and debt asset prices.

And again we turn to direct holdings of equity.  Over the last five years the value of the stock of equity assets held by the household sector has been largely unchanged: €46.4 billion in 2012 versus €46.8 billion in 2016.  Of course, we have just seen that there has also been minus €36 billion of transactions with assets in this category with almost all of this relating to unlisted shares..

The detailed table shows that the value of listed held by households rose from €9.9 billion in 2012 to €14.1 billion in 2016.  On the other hand the value of unlisted shares fell from €36.5 billion to €32.8 billion but a drop of just under €4 billion pales in comparison to the minus €34 billion of transactions.  We are left with a related question.  First, we didn’t know what the household sector was selling, now we have to wonder how the household sector sold €34 billion of an asset it had €36.5 billion to begin with and still be left with nearly €33 billion at the end.  That’s a pretty strong revaluation effect!

But this is nothing new for this category.  Since 2003 the net financial transactions of the household sector in unlisted shares sum to almost €60 billion yet in spite of these negative transactions the value has always been between €33 billion and €42 billion.  The top of that range was recorded in 2005 while 2016 gave rise to the bottom of the range.  It seems we’re creating the value almost as quick as we’re realising the value.

When the revisions of to household income and the savings rate were first published in the Q1 2017 ISAs we said the coherence that appeared in the last annual accounts was no more – what large net lending explaining most of the deleveraging by the household sector.  The 2016 annual accounts once again present a coherent story and though the household sector may now be a net borrower the continued reduction in debt liabilities (and accumulation of deposits) is balanced by negative transactions in unlisted equity.  We obviously don’t know the distribution of these transactions but they do add up in aggregate.

Anyway, after all that digging what are we left with?  We have a household sector that is showing improvement across the current, capital and financial accounts.  It is a hard slog but we are slowly working through the excess that built up in the run-up to 2008.  We will look at these improvements visually in the next post.


  1. Hi Séamus,

    I was wondering if you could provide a link to the HH financial transaction account used in this post?

    Many Thanks

  2. Let's assume that financial fees on the equities and pensions are 2% a year. That's 20bn over 4 years. The equities delivered a whopping 0.9% growth (0.15% p.a.), so that's wealth destructive. The pensions increased 26%; 6.5% p.a. (not clear on whether that's contribution or increase in NAV, or whether that's net or gross of fees). Nevertheless, the equities & pension fund managers must love Ireland; pay fees and deliver minimal growth in high alpha times. Compared to S&P growth of 90% and Nasdaq growth of 129%, that's an underperformance, or missed opportunity of 40bn in equity growth. When the recession kicks in, portfolios drop 21-26%, so peak to trough, the value erosion is c46bn "yet to come at some point" or 21% off pension & equities portfolio. Therefore fund managers are likely to erode value through the cycle (12 to "year one of recession") of 10k per person, whilst getting paid c5k for that job. Outstanding.

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