Covid uncertainty sees household savings jump to four times normal levels

Lockdown after Christmas severely limited opportunities to spend
Covid uncertainty sees household savings jump to four times normal levels

Covid-19 restrictions imposed after Christmas severely limited opportunities to spend on activities such as dining out, the CSO noted.

Cautious households concerned about the trajectory of the pandemic saved more than €10bn in the first three months of the year.

The figure is four times the amount that is usually saved in the first quarter.

Throughout the pandemic, households have maintained elevated levels of savings due to incomes holding up and lockdowns reducing opportunities for spending.

New figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) show households had a combined disposable income of more than €32.2bn with final consumption spending for the three months recorded at €22.2bn. 

In 2018/19, gross household savings averaged around €3.5bn per quarter.

"Covid-19 restrictions imposed after Christmas severely limited opportunities to spend on activities such as dining out," the CSO noted.

"The uncertainty around the trajectory of the pandemic may also have induced 'precautionary savings' as households kept money back, anticipating tightening finances in the future."

The data shows Government subsidies were up by €1.1bn and social protection payments grew by €2.7bn compared to the first quarter of 2020, as the economic effect of the pandemic was largely confined to the last few weeks of March last year.

The median income for those receiving the Pandemic Unemployment Payment declined compared to income when working. This was offset by higher median incomes for those in work. 

The total wage bill in some parts of the economy (such as finance, IT, and public service) rose due to higher earnings per week and more people being employed in those sectors.

Even after higher taxes and social contributions are taken into account, overall gross disposable income rose.

The largest proportion of the extra saving was added to deposits in Irish banks. Saving also went into pension funds and paying off mortgages and other loans. 

Capital investment in new homes or carrying out improvements or extensions to dwellings was largely unchanged compared to 2020 because of restrictions on construction activity.

Various sectors have seen surges in spending following the lifting of restrictions due to pent up demand from consumers.

In March, the Central Bank published an economic letter which said spending after the pandemic will be influenced by what households decide to do with their ‘excess pandemic savings’.

"Higher-income households likely saved more," authors Reamonn Lydon and Tara McIndoe-Calder said. 

"We estimate that more than half could be in the top 30% of households by income. As these savings are more akin to deferred spending than precautionary savings, a relatively high share may be spent in future."

"If half of excess pandemic savings accumulated to date are spent, it could add up to 5% (or €5bn) to consumer spending over time."

Savings could also be reinvested, including to purchase owner-occupied housing and to fund home improvements, the letter stated.

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