It may be hard to truly gauge whether the majority of members are feeling skepticism toward signs that an economic recovery is well on its way.
That assessment might be even harder to pinpoint given several indicators that lending and other activities continue to move into positive territory.
Still, Dave Colby, chief economist at CUNA Mutual Group, has heard otherwise.
“In my travels throughout the country meeting with CU industry leaders, I detect a true sense of skepticism regarding the economic recovery, which is now 33 months old," Colby noted in the April issue of CUNA Mutual’s Credit Union Trends Report.
“More importantly, CU leaders clearly affirm members’ attitudes and financial actions imply they have yet to feel the recovery and/or don’t trust its sustainability.”
Colby said while the U.S. economy is expanding, risk factors such as Iran and North Korea could derail any positive momentum.
“The only thing CUs can control is what they do for members. Don’t miss this opportunity to use low interest rates to improve member households’ finances,” Colby offered.
Indeed, credit unions are experiencing some bright spots. Annual loan growth moved up to 1.9% in February thanks to contributions from first mortgages, used vehicles and member business loans, according to the trends report, which tracked data through February.
Colby said the biggest contributors to the improvement since February 2011 were first mortgages ($11.3 billion), used vehicles ($6.0 billion) and member business loans ($2.8 billion).
Detracting from gains were home equity and second mortgages ($6.1 billion) and new vehicle loans ($3.9 billion). Colby said on a year-to-date basis, the only portfolio segment in positive territory is first mortgages.
Meanwhile, members continue to boost their savings, with many opting for liquid deposit accounts, the data showed. Share drafts (0.26% yield) were up 10.9% since February 2011 and regular shares (0.27% yield) were up 9.3%.
Money market accounts (0.42% yield) increased 7.9%, while certificates of deposit were down 3.5% with one-year yields falling to 0.966%. CDs are now $33 billion (13.6%) off their March 2009 peak, according to the report.
“Growth improvements are forecast in 2012, but cautious consumers and historically low interest rates will preclude much stronger loan portfolio gains,” Colby said.
After recent growth in the number of people finding work, March’s job report showed that only 120,000 jobs were added that month. This, after a three-month streak of gains above the 200,000 mark, according to a recent market analysis from Catalyst Corporate Federal Credit Union. The good news is the unemployment rate fell to 8.2% but that drop was likely due to people leaving the workforce.
For many members, a mortgage remains the biggest financial investment they will make in their lives. The drop in home prices may have helped elevate consumer confidence. As of February, average home prices in the U.S. have retreated back to late 2002 levels, according to Brian Turner, director and chief strategist at Catalyst Strategic Solutions, a subsidiary of Catalyst Corporate in Plano, Texas.
The rate that members are securing first mortgages continues to climb. The loans rose 5.3% during the past year and the $11.3 billion increase in total first mortgages has accounted for 106% of all loan growth since February 2011, data from CUNA Mutual’s trends report showed.
At $320 billion, real estate secured loans now equal 55% of all credit union loans and 32% of total assets, Colby noted. Annual growth for total real estate loans finished 2011 at 1.0% and has since improved to 1.6%.
For credit unions, the latest portfolio culprits have been home equity loans and second mortgages, according to CUNA Mutual. Both components fell year over year and the combined 7.1% decline translated into a $6.1 billion contraction.
Colby said historically low interest rates and continuing price declines imply more improvements in overall affordability.