They’re richer than ever, but Danes are sitting on their wealth

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A picture taken on April 11, 2018 shows a man taking pictures next to a couple standing amidst large beds of crocuses at Kings Garden in central Copenhagen, Denmark. / AFP

In the world-record holder of negative rates, there’s been another eye-catching development.

Danes are richer than ever before, according to central bank data on savings and home equity. But they’re spending less, in relative terms. The gap between private consumption and household wealth is the biggest it’s been in three decades.

The development has economists scratching their heads, in part because it’s cheaper than ever to borrow after six years of negative interest rates.

“It’s clearly difficult to come up with an explanation for the continued muted consumption,” said Christian Heinig, chief economist at Realkredit Danmark, the mortgage arm of Danske Bank A/S. “The most obvious explanation is that many Danes still have fresh memories of the economic crisis and are aware that home equity can quickly disappear.”

The Danes haven’t always been this thrifty. For decades, spending moved in tandem with wealth accumulation. More wealth, more consumption, and vice versa. That pattern seemed to fall apart after Denmark’s housing market became a casualty of the global financial crisis, and it hasn’t held since 2014.

Danes’ obsession with thrift poses some problems. Though private consumption did inch up 0.9 percent in the first quarter, it wasn’t enough to prevent the economy from shrinking on an annual basis. Danske says GDP growth this year probably won’t exceed 2 percent. — Bloomberg