Loan Growth Falls To Historic Lows

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WASHINGTON-Credit union lending has all but dried up, even with interest rates plunging to new lows, leaving new challenges for credit unions to attract borrowers.

Monthly data complied by CUNA from almost 500 credit unions showed total credit union loans declined by 0.1% during July, and have declined by almost 1% for the first seven months of the year.

That's the first time in almost 30 years credit unions have had negative loan growth through the first seven months of a year, according to Bill Hampel, chief economist for CUNA, who predicted the weakest year for loan growth since World War Two. "That's why this recovery is so weak," said Hampel.

The CUNA economist attributed the continued lack of loan demand to the efforts by consumers to pay down debt. "For the past 15 years the household sector has increased its debt faster than it has increased its income," he said. "What we're seeing now is a de-leveraging of the household sector."

Tun Wai, chief economist for NAFCU, said the enduring recession has had pushed down demand, even for borrowers who have not lost their jobs. "If you are employed and you are really concerned about the future you don't spend and you're really trying to pay down your debt," he said.

"I think there is going to be rather slow loan growth for quite some time," Wai told Credit Union Journal.

NCUA figures for the first six months of the year, which were released last week, show loan growth for the first half at a meager 0.1%, with the fastest-growing types of loans being those with members seeking lower payments and less collateral.

New auto loans, for example, fell by 4.2% in the first quarter and by another 5.7% in the second quarter-almost 10% for the first half of the year. Credit card loans were down almost 0.6% for the first half, while first mortgages-fueled by decades-low rates-were up only 1.2% for the first half of the year.

The slack loan demand creates a major dilemma for credit unions that now have cash to lend but few takers, according to NAFCU's Wai. "The question is, what are you going to do with it? Some credit unions are probably holding on to it as cash," he said.

Both CUNA and NCUA figures also show a big drop in share growth. NCUA said share growth slowed from 11% annualized for the first quarter to just 0.6% in the second quarter. CUNA's figures show shares grew by just 4.17% for the first seven months, half of the 8.73% growth rate for the same period last year.

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