New figures show that households and small to medium enterprises (SMEs) are steadily moving back to making repayments on their loans after using pandemic emergency measures to defer them.

The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority says only 2.3% of housing and SME loans were subject to repayment deferral at the end of November. At the height of the pandemic crisis, the figure was over 10%. Deferrals peaked in May at more than 12% of all housing loans but stood at only 2.8% by the end of November.

Even more remarkable have been SME loans: in May SME deferrals peaked at 17.5% of loans but have improved markedly since September to only 2.4% by the end of November.

Those figures were accompanied by a jump in housing approvals since June of 40%, with total approvals at 17,205 in November and figures for the year totalling almost 170,000.

“Who would have thought just a few months ago that we’d see figures at that level,” says independent economist Saul Eslake.