Debt Repay Is Priority
With members expected to continue paying down debt, credit unions could see the same type of savings growth experienced in 2010.
Low deposit yields, a modest uptick in consumer spending and a slightly more upbeat outlook in the equity markets are some of the factors that will likely keep savings growth below 5% in 2011, according to CUNA Mutual Group’s February "Credit Union Trends Report."
Credit unions finished 2010 with total savings growth at 4.5%, which is below the 10-year average annual rate of increase (7.7%) and results following the 2001 recession, the report’s data showed.
"Some of the weak performance is attributable to member households reducing debt as a balance sheet alternative to building savings," said Dave Colby, chief economist at CUNA Mutual. "We believe the vast majority of the growth reduction can be traced back to deposit pricing."
Yields were already low at the end of 2009 and credit unions reduced them further, reflecting competitive market conditions, the desire to control deposit inflows and reduce their cost of funds, Colby said.
Over the course of 2010, money market yields declined 38% to 0.60%, CDs were down 32% to 1.2%, regular shares finished the year at 0.38% off 28% and share drafts yields declined 23% to finish 2010 at 0.32%, according to the report. Annual asset growth finished the year at just 3.2%. The $10.2 billion reduction in borrowings combined with reduced deposit inflows translated into total assets finishing 2010 up $29 billion to $933 billion.
This year could mirror the yield drops seen with most savings accounts, Colby said, adding there really is not a whole lot of room to fall further. He is hoping the Federal Reserve will up its concerns about inflation and start racheting up short-term interest rates. While a rise in interest rates could be beneficial in savings, in other areas, members could see pain.
"We’ll see some spikes and dips. If you’re state, local or federal government, an increase in debt service means you may have to lay people off. Then you have people with ARMs and if interest rates go up, that will tip them over into default. I don’t think the economy is strong enough to handle higher rates now."
Credit unions are still trying to manage their net worth ratio, Colby said. The problem is that it is hard to work with the numerator in the ratio if the denominator is not being addressed, he explained. The denominator is assets, which is 86% member savings and deposits. Keeping rates low and in line with what the market is offering is not attracting a lot of deposits, he said.