Research Discussion Paper – RDP 2015-06 Credit Losses at Australian Banks: 1980–2013 Abstract

Credit risk – the risk that borrowers will not repay their loans – is one of the main risks that financial intermediaries face, and has been the underlying driver of most systemic banking crises in advanced economies over recent decades. This paper explores the ex post credit risk experience – the ‘credit loss’ experience – of the Australian banking system. It does so using a newly compiled dataset covering bank-level credit losses over 1980 to 2013.

The Australian credit loss experience is dominated by two episodes: the very large losses around the early 1990s recession and the losses during and after the global financial crisis. The available data indicate the above-average losses during both periods were on lending to businesses. Credit losses on housing loans during and after the global financial crisis were minimal in Australia. Consistent with this, an econometric panel-data model that properly accounts for portfolio composition indicates that conditions in the business sector, rather than those in the household sector, drove credit losses in Australia during the period studied. The data also indicate that the very worst credit loss outcomes – including those that led to the failure of several state government-owned banks in the early 1990s – were driven by poor lending standards.

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