The ECB recently released a household income/wealth survey which (rightfully) gained a lot of attention. In this post I will focus on Greek figures (which unfortunately appear to be quite out of date since the relevant data was gathered in 2009Q3):
The median of net wealth for Greece is quite high, especially compared to the EU average or German figures. Furthermore, only a small fraction of total households (around 1/3) carry debt, which makes an outright balance sheet recession more difficult (in the sense of a large part of households carrying debt and prioritizing debt repayments instead of consumption). Home owners are a very large percentage of households, at 72% (much larger than the typical European average) which allows them to cope with financial difficulties much easier.
The breakdown of real assets shows that most of households hold a primary residence with a large part also owning a secondary real estate property and most of them using a car. Given the above figures, there’s a natural limit on the possible fall of real estate prices since most of the supply will come from new houses and the 38% of ‘other real estate property’.
Nevertheless, total financial assets of households are quite low, with liquid deposits running at just 3,600€. Households seem to have much lower liquidity safety buffers with most of their wealth held in the form of their primary residence. As a result, long-term unemployment, coupled with inelastic property (and other) taxes can create large financial burdens on most households.
The above is evident on this table where real assets are 93% of total assets, compared to 83% for Europe and 79% for Germany.
The low percentage of households holding debt is one of the main differences with other EU countries. Only 17.5% hold a mortgage, with most (26.1%) indebted households owning non-mortgage debt (probably consumer loans).
Financial burden is quite low, with debt service to income at 14.7% and a loan-to-value ratio of main residence at 31.6%. On the other hand, net liquid assets are very low, at 4.9% of annual gross income, which means that households are not able to handle large shocks on their income or debt payments.
Obviously, current numbers will be quite different, with real assets and deposits much lower. The positive fact is that only a small fraction of households carry debt which makes balance sheet constraints less significant while most own a primary residence and a car which provide natural buffers for handling temporary financial difficulties.