* Carney says encouraged by slowing debt accumulation
* Macklem says too soon to let guard down despite cooler housing mkt
* Rate hike is the most likely next move by Bank of Canada
By Louise Egan and David Ljunggren
OTTAWA, April 23 Outgoing Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney signaled on Tuesday he feels little pressure to raise interest rates any time soon, saying he was "very encouraged" that Canadians were stabilizing their debt loads and that the housing market was cooling.
"I would say that as we sit here today, we are encouraged by the fact that the rate of debt accumulation has slowed," Carney told lawmakers.
The household debt-to-income ratio, which now sits at an all-time high of 165 percent, should level off this year after rising steadily for the past few years, he said. Various housing market indicators are also showing improvement.
But Tiff Macklem, senior deputy governor at the central bank and seen as the most likely to replace Carney when he leaves in June to run the Bank of England, said it's too early to say that those risks has disappeared completely.
"House prices are starting to stabilize, but they are high. So the vulnerabilities are still there and it's important that this gradual evolution continues ... it's too soon to let down our guard and if we see an acceleration, yes, we need to look at the measures we can take," he said.
Carney repeated the central bank's warning that it expects its next move to be an interest rate increase, even after recently cutting economic growth forecasts.
"The considerable monetary stimulus which exists now in Canada will probably remain like this for a certain period -- that is clear," he said. "But after a certain time, which the Bank of Canada is not specifying, it is probable there will be a modest increase in interest rates."
When asked whether high personal debt was the main motive for the bank's rate-hike bias, Carney conceded that it was a factor, but that low inflation and substantial slack in the economy were also key.
"On the margin we do take into account what is happening in the household sector and on the margin that influences policy to be less loose, if I can put it that way, than it otherwise would be," Carney said.
Evidence of a soft landing for housing included a drop in the number of mortgages with floating rates, the policymakers said. Growth in household credit has slowed to 4 percent from 6 percent.
Canadian housing starts have also eased to about 185,000, in line with the bank's estimate of demographic demand, while housing resales are just below the 10-year average, they said. (Additional reporting by Jeffrey Hodgson; Editing by David Gregorio)