Unease as property fuels rise in household debt

Unease as property fuels rise in household debt

SINGAPORE - During the global financial crisis five years ago, one local bank boss quipped that his management went through so many stress tests on the loans book that they were stressed out themselves.

Well, stressful times are back. You can't blame analysts for going into overdrive trying to suss out the various economic scenarios that could emerge here after the United States central bank flagged a possible tightening of its monetary policy.

Recent history has shown that monetary tightening by the mighty Federal Reserve can be messy affairs. A recent report by Nomura shows that when the Fed reversed gears in 1994 the stock market in China - the region's economic giant - fell an eye-popping 20 per cent while a similar move in 1999 sent it plunging 31 per cent, as the region faced a big credit squeeze.

This time, the picture is not looking pretty either.

Any Fed tightening could clash head-on with a slowdown in the mainland's huge manufacturing sector and precipitate a region- wide economic reverse, given China's important role as a big commodity buyer.

And with Singapore interest rates tracking the US very closely, the impact could be a double whammy for borrowers who took out huge mortgages to buy property.

While Nomura regards Singapore as medium-risk where financial crises are concerned, it flags the 50 percentage point rise in private debt over the past four years as a potential flashpoint.

Its studies have shown that in large economies such as the US, Japan, Europe and China, financial crises were often preceded by the proportion of domestic debt to gross domestic product surging by 30 percentage points or more in the previous five years.

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