Household Debt Overhang Did Hardly Cause a Larger Spending Fall during the Financial Crisis in Australia

Household Debt Overhang Did Hardly Cause a Larger Spending Fall during the Financial Crisis in Australia,” April 2021, paper.


The “debt-overhang hypothesis” – that households cut back more on their spending in a crisis when they have higher levels of outstanding mortgage debt (Dynan, 2012) – seems to be taken for granted by macroprudential authorities in several countries in their policy decisions, as well as by the international organizations that evaluate and comment on countries’ macroprudential policy. New results for Australian microdata are presented that reject the debt-overhang hypothesis. The results instead support the “spending-normalization hypothesis” of Andersen, Duus, and Jensen (2016), what can also be called the “debt-financed overspending” hypothesis – that the correlation between high pre-crisis household indebtedness and subsequent spending falls during the crisis reflects high debt-financed spending pre-crisis and a return to normal spending during the crisis. As discussed in Svensson (2019, 2020), this is consistent with the above correlation reflecting debt-financed overspending through what Muellbauer (2012) calls the “housing-collateral household-demand” and Mian and Sufi (2018) the “debt-driven household demand” channel.

Är verkligen hushållens skulder för höga?

Är verkligen hushållens skulder för höga?“, inlägg, Ekonomistas, inlägg, 8 februari 2021.

Enligt en intervju i SvD den 6 februari vill nya finansmarknadsministern, Åsa Lindhagen, gärna se lägre skulder för hushållen. Men är verkligen hushållens skulder för höga? Vad ska de jämföras med? Hur kan man avgöra om de är för höga eller inte? Vad säger data?

Macroprudential Policy and Household Debt: What is Wrong with Swedish Macroprudential Policy?

Macroprudential Policy and Household Debt: What is Wrong with Swedish Macroprudential policy?”, Nordic Economic Policy Review 2020, 111–167. Paper. Online appendix. Slides.


Much is right with Swedish macroprudential policy. But regarding risks associated with household debt, the policy does not pass a cost-benefit test. The substantial credit tightening that Finansinspektionen (FI, the Swedish FSA) has achieved – through amortization requirements and more indirect ways – has no demonstrable benefits but substantial costs. The FI, and international organizations, use a flawed theoretical framework for assessing macroeconomic risks from household debt. The tightening was undertaken for mistaken reasons. Several reforms are required for a better-functioning mortgage market. A reform of the governance of macroprudential policy – including a decision-making committee and improved accountability – may reduce risks of policy mistakes.

Update, June 202: Problems of the amortization requirements confirmed

The paper was written before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. It emphasizes that the FI’s mandatory amortization requirements substantially increase the mortgagors’ housing payments and reduce their cash-flow margins. Thereby the amortization requirements reduce households’ resilience to shocks – in contradiction to the FI’s objective to increase the resilience.

The paper also notes that the FI is aware of the problem that amortization requirements reduce households’ resilience. Its response to this problem and contradiction is to allow mortgage firms to make exemptions from amortization payments for mortgagors “for a limited period” on “special grounds.” However, the special grounds FI mentions refer to situations when individual mortgagors face individual problems in fulfilling their debt service for reasons such as “unemployment, long periods of absence from work due to illness and the death of a close relative.” There is no suggestion in the FI’s discussion that mortgage firms might consider mortgagors’ consumption or the macroeconomic risk from a reduction in mortgagors’ consumption—the FI’s official rationale for having introduced the amortization requirements. It difficult to believe that mortgage firms would exempt mortgagors from amortization on the ground that certainly they can fulfill their debt service, but they cannot maintain their normal consumption. The mortgage firms will most certainly be focused on any risk to their individual debt service rather than on any macroeconomic consequences. Thus, the FI has not provided any mechanism through which the exemptions to amortization payments would avoid the reduced resilience caused by the amortization requirements.

The problems of the mandatory amortization requirements were confirmed, when the corona pandemic forced the FI in March 2010 to adapt and to make a surprise special recommendation: “Loss of income due to the corona-virus [is] a cause for exemption from amortization.” But borrowers have no right to an exemption; it is still the mortgage firm that decides. And the recommendation did not apply to those that have not yet lost their income. In April, the FI corrected the latter and stated that banks may grant all mortgagors amortization exemption. But the exemption is only in force until the end of June 2021. As Bäckman has argued – and is argued in the paper – it is better to simply abolish the amortization requirements.


Op-Ed: The Swedish FSA’s amortization requirements lack demonstrable social benefits (English translation)

Op-ed in Dagens Nyheter, November 9, 2019, English translation: The amortization requirements and other credit tightening by Finansinspektionen (FI, the Swedish Financial Supervisory Authority) have large individual and social costs, but according to research they have no demonstrable social benefits. It is irresponsible to push through a credit tightening that fails a cost-benefit analysis, write Robert Boije, Chief Economist, SBAB; Harry Flam, Professor Emeritus, Institute for International Economic Studies; John Hassler, Professor, Institute for International Economic Studies; and Lars E.O. Svensson, Affiliated Professor, Stockholm School of Economics.

Every economic-policy measure should pass a cost-benefit analysis. It should show that the benefits exceed the costs. The FI’s amortization requirements and the other credit tightening that it has achieved fails such an analysis. The credit tightening has obvious, large costs but no demonstrable benefits.
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DN Debatt: Finansinspektionens amorteringskrav saknar påvisbar samhällsnytta

Finansinspektionens amorteringskrav och övriga kreditåtstramning har stora individuella och samhälleliga kostnader, men enligt forskningen ingen påvisbar samhällsnytta. Det är ansvarslöst att driva igenom en åtstramning som inte klarar en nyttokostnadsanalys, skriver Robert Boije, Harry Flam, John Hassler och Lars E.O. Svensson på DN Debatt.

Ekonomistas post: The conclusion that the amortization requirements have been introduced for mistaken reasons holds also after Statistics Sweden’s revision of the household saving rates

The conclusion that the amortization requirements have been introduced for mistaken reasons holds also after Statistic Sweden’s revision of the household saving rates,” Ekonomistas post, September 23, 2019 (Swedish).

Almedalen 2019 – Amorteringskraven: Felaktiga grunder, negativa effekter och minskad motståndskraft

“Amorteringskraven: Felaktiga grunder, negativa effekter och minskad motståndskraft”, presentation vid ett seminarium i Almedalen 2 juli 2019. Bilder powerpoint pdf. Video.

Finansinspektionen har de senaste åren infört amorteringskrav och genomdrivit en övrig åtstramning på bolånemarknaden. Detta har skett på felaktiga grunder, har negativa välfärds- och fördelningseffekter och försämrar bolånemarknadens funktionssätt. Syftet har varit att öka bolånetagarnas motståndskraft och minska risken för djupare lågkonjunkturer, men i själva verket minskar amorteringskraven motståndskraften och snarast ökar risken för djupare lågkonjunkturer.

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