By Byun Duk-kun
SEOUL, Dec. 26 (Yonhap) -- South Korean households have become less fiscally sound despite their debt growing at the slowest pace in over 15 years, a central bank report said Thursday.
Outstanding household debt, including credit spending, came to 1,572.7 trillion won (US$1.35 trillion) as of end-September, up 3.9 percent from a year earlier, according to the report from the Bank of Korea (BOK).
The figure marks the lowest on-year increase since the second quarter of 2004, when overall household debt gained 2.7 percent from a year before.
Despite the overall debt growing at a lower rate, the financial stability of local households deteriorated from three months earlier in the July-September period.
"While the households' debt payment burdens continue to remain high, the default rate of non-banking lenders has recently been on the rise," the BOK said in its report on the country's financial stability submitted to parliament.
The central bank partly attributed the increased risk to the growing population of elderly people.
As of end-September, the debt-to-disposable income ratio of people aged 60 years or older came to 212.6 percent, significantly higher than the average 164.4 percent and 189.8 percent for younger age groups, according to the BOK.
"Despite the slowing growth in household debt, the debt-to-disposable income ratio of households rose 2.9 percentages points from the same period last year to 160.3 percent at end-September due to reduced income," the BOK said.
The country's slowing economic growth may also add to problems down the road.
Overall borrowing by local households and companies came to 194.5 percent of the country's nominal gross domestic product (GDP) as of end-September, up 8.2 percentage points from a year earlier, according to the BOK.
Asia's fourth-largest economy is estimated to expand 2 percent this year, which would mark the slowest since 2009, when it grew 0.7 percent on-year.
Unlike household debts, corporate borrowing jumped sharply from a year earlier in the third quarter, spiking 8.5 percent on-year to 1,153 trillion won as of end-September.
Such an increase follows two policy rate cuts by the BOK, in July and October, that sent the base interest rate to the record low of 1.25 percent.
However, it also comes amid a steady decline in exports that have also reportedly led to serious drops in sales and profits of local firms.
South Korea's exports have dropped for 12 consecutive months as of November, while December is widely expected to mark the 13th consecutive month of drop with outbound shipments in the first 20 days of the month slipping 2 percent on-year.
"The country needs to watch out for the possibility of corporate credit risks expanding in the future as the credit ratings of local companies are beginning to show signs of weakening, while their financial stability may be deteriorating," the BOK said.
Meanwhile, the central bank said foreign investors had net purchased some $10.4 billion worth of local stocks and bonds as of end-November.
"(Foreign) stock investment had generally been on the rise in the first half but has been decreasing since August due to the continued uncertainties stemming from the U.S.-China trade dispute and economic slumps in other major economies," it said.
Overseas stock investment by local residents, on the other hand, has been on a steady increase, net gaining $51.9 billion in the first 10 months of the year.
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