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Canada’s sixth largest bank has a question for Moody’s, the American credit-rating agency that recently downgraded its ratings for several of the biggest Canadian banks.
“Why so moody on Canada?” reads a header in a note from Stefane Marion, National Bank’s chief economist and strategist, published today.
Marion wonders what’s driven Moody’s to now rate Canada’s overall macro profile as “Very Strong” when it previously pegged it at “Strong +,” one level higher.
Moody’s says it’s because “credit conditions in Canada have deteriorated. High levels of debt and rapid credit expansion can signal credit quality problems that emerge later.”
But Marion takes issue with this explanation. “Moody’s assesses a number of OECD countries with household indebtedness exceeding Canada’s as having a better macro profile,” he notes.
Of course, those countries are all seeing employment gains for prime-aged workers, or those between 25 and 54, who are also generally most inclined to take on debt, Marion adds.
“But is this not also the case in Canada? Job creation for the prime-aged populations of Canada’s largest cities has been a key driver of the economy in recent years,” the National Bank chief economist says.
Nonetheless, David Beattie, Moody’s senior VP, doubled down on the agency’s stance in a statement included in the rating announcement.
“Continued growth in the Canadian consumer debt and elevated housing prices leaves consumers, and Canadian banks, more vulnerable to downside risks facing the Canadian economy than in the past,” Beattie says.
As of March 2017, Canadian households have racked up more than $2 trillion in credit, including about $1.4 in trillion in mortgage credit, according to the Bank of Canada’s report on credit conditions.
Of that mortgage credit, $81.7 billion was taken on in the 12-month period ending in March.