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Auto defaults drop to lowest point since last July; below 1% for 4 years

June 29, 2018
Auto defaults dropped in May for the third consecutive month as May’s reading settled below the 1-percent mark for the fourth year in a row.
According to data through May released by S&P Dow Jones Indices and Experian, the auto finance default rate dropped 6 basis points from the previous month to land at 0.93 percent. It’s been a steady downward move since the year-high of 1.09 percent recorded in February and now sits at its lowest level since last July.
The composite rate of the S&P/Experian Consumer Credit Default Indices — which represents a comprehensive measure of changes in consumer credit defaults — decreased 3 basis points from last month to 0.89 percent.
The bank card default rate ticked down 2 basis points to 3.84 percent. The first mortgage default rate also declined by 2 basis points to 0.66 percent. Analysts highlighted three of the five major cities saw decreases in composite default rates in May.
Chicago and Dallas each dipped 2 basis points to 0.88 percent and 0.80 percent, respectively. The May default rate for Miami came in at 2.77 percent, which was 1 basis point lower than the previous month. The rate for New York increased 2 basis points to 0.92 percent, while the rate for Los Angeles rose 3 basis points to 0.62 percent.
David Blitzer, managing director and chairman of the index committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices, gave a wide-ranging assessment of what the data means and what trends might be surfacing.
"Consumers continue to pay their bills on time," Blitzer said. "With the economy turning in good numbers with low unemployment, low inflation and gradually rising wages, consumer credit default rates are flat to down.
"Consumer borrowing has recovered from the financial crisis," he continued. "Mortgage debt outstanding fell 12.6 percent from its early 2008 peak to the bottom in 2014; now it remains roughly 6.1 percent below the peak. Outstanding debt on bank cards dropped 18 percent from a May 2008 high to a low in May 2011. Subsequently, it recovered and is now about 1 percent higher than the peak seen 10 years ago.
"Borrowing for auto loans peaked in early 2005, before the financial crisis, then hit its low point in 2010 and has experienced a strong rebound. Currently, outstanding auto loans are almost 40 percent above the 2005 level," Blitzer added.
"Looking ahead, there may be some concern about how long the moderate default rates can continue," he said. Savings as a percentage of disposable income is declining. At the current level of 3 percent, it is near the low point seen in the boom before the financial crisis. While inflation remains low, wage growth is not very high, and home prices are rising two to three times faster. Any rapid rise in defaults will wait for the next recession, whenever it comes."
Jointly developed by S&P Indices and Experian, analysts noted the S&P/Experian Consumer Credit Default Indices are published monthly with the intent to accurately track the default experience of consumer balances in four key loan categories: auto, bankcard, first mortgage lien and second mortgage lien.
The indices are calculated based on data extracted from Experian’s consumer credit database. This database is populated with individual consumer loan and payment data submitted by lenders to Experian every month.
Experian’s base of data contributors includes leading banks and mortgage companies and covers approximately $11 trillion in outstanding loans sourced from 11,500 lenders.