Surging house prices lift household wealth, but savings slump - Stats NZ

Surging house prices have boosted household wealth but savings have fallen away, according to new numbers from Stats NZ.

An experimental series shows net worth rose 5.5 percent to $2.3 trillion in the three months ended March on the previous quarter.

Net worth is defined as the difference between the value of households' assets and their liabilities.

"Rising asset prices, including property prices, have meant that the total net worth of New Zealand households has increased strongly in recent quarters," Stats NZ national accounts senior manager Paul Pascoe said.

Household net worth rose by $402 billion, about 21 percent on a year earlier, while household indebtedness increased only $16b.

But less than half came from rising property values, about $172b, while $245b came from financial assets including shares, businesses, rental properties, bank deposits, and retirement savings.

However, saving rates have fallen to the lowest level in two years, as the growth in spending far outpaced the growth in household incomes.

The saving ratio, which compares savings to disposable income, fell to 0.4 percent in the March quarter from 3.2 percent in December.

Pascoe said COVID-19 had restrained spending, while government measures such as the wage subsidy had supported incomes.

ANZ senior economist Miles Workman said the new numbers supported what it had long been thinking.

"It's been a wild ride ... but households have weathered the storm rather well - thanks to the government's balance sheet taking the brunt of it."

He said the rise in spending suggested economic recovery in New Zealand was ahead of other similar economies, including Australia, while businesses had been harder hit by the crisis than households.

"But they are now benefiting greatly from all this domestic demand."

Workman said the drop in the savings rate was a sign of a solid economy.

"When households are worried, they tend to save more, and when they're confident about their income prospects they tend to dis-save."