OTTAWA (Reuters) - A key measure of household debt in Canada declined slightly in the fourth quarter of 2011 from a record high in the third, Statistics Canada said on Thursday, reversing a trend that has alarmed policy makers in Ottawa.
Household credit market debt, which includes mortgages, consumer credit and loans, fell to 150.6 percent of income from 151.9 percent in the third quarter.
Canadians continued to increase their debt load in the period to C$1.60 trillion ($1.62 trillion) from C$1.58 trillion in the previous quarter, but their personal disposable income grew at a faster pace, Statscan said.
Many consumers have taken advantage of extraordinarily low interest rates to take out mortgages at a time of high housing prices, making them vulnerable to bankruptcy in the case of a sudden downturn in the real estate market or rate increases.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney have both warned repeatedly against increasing debt levels, and many analysts believe the government will soon intervene to tighten mortgage rules.
National net worth increased in the fourth quarter by 0.8 percent to C$6.6 trillion due to higher non-financial assets and household net worth per capita increased to C$182,100 from C$180,600.
Reporting By Louise Egan; Editing by Theodore d'Afflisio