Poorer EU Nations Have Richer Households, Says ECB

German households are poor in assets while those in bailed-out places like Cyprus and Spain have higher net wealth, for instance.

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Households in many peripheral euro zone countries are on average wealthier than those in the bloc's core, a study published by the European Central Bank on Tuesday showed.

The Eurosystem household finance and consumption survey, which included all euro zone countries except Ireland and Estonia, showed that often the households in bailed-out countries have more net assets than those in countries which paid out funds for the rescues.

Average net wealth in Spain was 291,400 euros and in Italy 275,200 euros, significantly higher than in triple-A rated Germany (195,200 euros), the Netherlands (170,200 euros) and Finland (161,500 euros).

Median net wealth is the lowest in the bloc's paymaster, Germany (51,400 euros), less than a third of that in Italy (173,500 euros) or Spain (182,700 euros), due to the relatively low level of home ownership in Germany.

The data, which was mainly collected in 2010, showed that the perception of rich northern European countries helping their poor southern cousins was not accurate, and that solid public finances are no indication of high personal wealth.

"The composition of net wealth is primarily driven by real assets," the joint study by the ECB and euro zone national central banks said.

Other factors accounting for different wealth levels included income, household composition, leverage to buy property and house prices, the study said.

Germany and Austria were the only two countries in the survey where less than half of households own their home.

On average, the wealthiest households are in Luxembourg, but Cyprus, which last month came close to a complete financial meltdown, was second.

Calling for help

The sovereign debt crisis has forced five euro zone countries-- in addition to Cyprus, also Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Greece - to apply for a bailout from their European partners.

People in the core countries have become increasingly resistant to the rescue packages, and populist parties critical of such moves have gained in polls in some, including Finland and Germany.

The top 10 percent of wealthiest households hold slightly more than half of the total net wealth in the euro zone. In terms of income, the top 10 percent of earn 31.0 percent of the total.

The debt-to-income ratio for all households having debt tops 100 percent in four euro zone countries - Spain, Cyprus, Portugal and the Netherlands, where it is the highest with almost twice the annual income.

By country, household new wealth ranges from 51,400 euros in Germany to 397,800 euros in Luxembourg, as viewed by the median figures. Straight average of wealth varied between 79,700 euros in Slovakia to 710,100 euros in Luxembourg.

Hundreds of Cypriot bank workers protest against the possibility of their pensions being affected, April 4, 2013.Credit: Reuters

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