Liar Loans and Household Finances – Property Imperative Weekly 16th Sept 2017

Risks in the property sector continue to rise, as we look at new data on household finances, the competitive landscape in banking and liar loans. Welcome to the Property Imperative to 16th September 2017.

We start our weekly digest looking at the latest data on the state of household finances. Watch the video, or read the transcript.

The Centre for Social Impact, in partnership with NAB released Financial Resilience in Australia 2016. This shows that while people are more financially aware, savings are shrinking and economic vulnerability is on the rise. In 2016, 2.4 million adults were financially vulnerable and there was a significant decrease in the proportion who were financially secure (35.7% to 31.2%). People were more likely to report having no access to any form of credit in 2016 (25.6%) compared to 2015 (20.2%) and no form of insurance (11.8% in 2016 compared to 8.7% in 2015). A higher proportion of people reported having access to credit through fringe providers in 2016 (5.4%) compared to 2015 (1.7%).

The ABS published their Survey of Household Income and Wealth. More than half the money Australian households spend on goods and services per week goes on basics – on average, $846 out of $1,425 spent. Housing costs have accelerated significantly. The data shows that more households now have a mortgage, while fewer are mortgage free. Rental rates remain reasonably stable, despite a rise in private landlords.

We published our Household Finance Confidence Index for August, which uses data from our 52,000 household surveys and Core Market Model to examine trends over time. Overall, households scored 98.6, compared with 99.3 last month, and this continues the drift below the neutral measure of 100. Younger households are overall less confident about their financial status, whilst those in the 50-60 year age bands are most confident. This is directly linked to the financial assets held, including property and other investments, and relative incomes. For the first time in more than a year, households in Victoria are more confident than those in NSW, while there was little relative change across the other states. One of the main reasons for the change is state of the Investment Property sector, where we see a significant fall in the number of households intending to purchase in NSW, and more intending to sell. One significant observation is the rising number of investors selling in Sydney to lock in capital growth, and seeking to buy in regional areas or interstate. Adelaide is a particular area of interest.

There was more mixed economic news this week, with the trend unemployment rate in Australia remaining at 5.6 per cent in August and the labour force participation rate rising to 65.2 per cent, the highest it has been since April 2012. However, the quarterly trend underemployment rate remained steady at 8.7 per cent over the quarter, but still at a historical high, for the third consecutive quarter. Full-time employment grew by a further 22,000 in August and part-time employment increased by 6,000.

The RBA published a discussion paper The Property Ladder after the Financial Crisis: The First Step is a Stretch but Those Who Make It Are Doing OK”. Good on the RBA for looking at this important topic. But we do have some concerns about the relevance of their approach. They highlight the rise of those renting, and attribute this largely to rising home prices. As a piece of research, it is interesting, but as it stops in 2014, does not tell us that much about the current state of play! A few points to note. First, the RBA paper uses HILDA data to 2014, so it cannot take account of more recent developments in the market – since then, incomes have been compressed, mortgage rates have been cut, and home prices have risen strongly in most states, so the paper may be of academic interest, but it may not represent the current state of play.   Very recently, First Time Buyers appear to be more active. More first time buyers are getting help from parent, and their loan to income ratios are extended, according to our own research. Also, they had to impute those who are first time buyers from the data, as HILDA does not identify them specifically.  Tricky!

ANZ has updated its national housing price forecast. They think nationwide prices will finish the year 5.8% higher, though prices are now 9.7% higher than a year ago. They attribute much of the slow-down in home price growth to retreating property investors. They also think Melbourne will be more resilient than Sydney.

Banks have been putting more attractor rates into the market to chase low risk mortgage loan growth this week.  CBA advised brokers that the bank is offering a $1,250 rebate for “new external refinance investment and owner-occupied principal and interest home loans” and some rate cuts.  ANZ increased its fixed rate two-year investor loans (with principal and interest repayments) by 31 basis points to 4.34 per cent p.a., while its two-year fixed resident investor loan with an interest-only repayment structure fell by 10 basis points to 4.64 per cent p.a. Suncorp also reduced fixed rates on its two and three-year investment home package plus loans by 20 and 30 basis points, respectively. The new rate for both is 4.29 per cent p.a., provided that the loan is for more than $150,000 and the loan to value ratio (LVR) is less than 90 per cent. MyState Bank has announced a decrease in its two-year fixed home loan rates for new, owner-occupied home loans with an LVR equal to or below 80%, effective immediately. Data from AFG highlights that the majors are reasserting their grip on the mortgage market – so much for macroprudential.

A UBS Report on “liar loans” grabbed the headlines. It is based on an online survey of 907 individuals who had taken out mortgages in the last 12 months and claimed 1/3 of mortgage applications (around $500 billion) were not entirely accurate. Understating living costs was the most significant misrepresentation, plus overstating income, especially loans via brokers. ANZ was singled out by UBS for an alleged high proportion of incorrect loans. Of course the industry rejected the analysis, but we have been watching the continued switching between owner occupied and investor loans – $1.4 billion last month, and more than $56 billion – 10% of the investor loan book over the past few months. This has, we think been driven by the lower interest rates on offer for owner occupied loans, compared with investor loans. But, we wondered if there was “flexibility with the truth” being exercised to get these cheaper loans. So UBS may have a point.  They conclude “while household debt levels, elevated house prices and subdued income growth are well known, these finding suggest mortgagors are more stretched than the banks believe, implying losses in a downturn could be larger than the banks anticipate”. Exactly.

The Treasury released their Affordable Housing draft legislation, which proposes an additional 10% Capital Gains Tax (CGT) benefit for investors who provide affordable housing via a recognised community housing entity. It also allows investment for affordable housing to be made via Managed Investment Trusts (MIT). The focus is to extend market mechanisms to get investors to put money into schemes designed to provide more rental accommodation via community housing projects. Whilst the aims are laudable, and the Government can say they are “Addressing Affordable Housing”, the impact we think will be limited.

APRA’s submission to the Productive Commissions review on Competition in the Australian Financial System review discusses the trade-off between financial stability and competition. They compared the banks’ cost income ratios in Australia with overseas, and suggests we have more efficient banks here – but they fail to compare relative net income ratios and overall returns – which are higher here thanks to a weaker competitive environment. They conclude that whilst some competition is good, too much risks financial stability.

The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics heard from the regulators this week. The focus was the banks’ out of cycle mortgage rate price hikes. Some of the banks have attributed the rise in rates to the regulatory changes but are they profiteering from the announcement? ASIC said the issue was whether the public justification for the interest rate rise was actually inaccurate and perhaps false and misleading, and therefore in breach of the ASIC Act. ASIC is currently “looking at this issue” and will be working with the ACCC, which has been given a specific brief by Treasury to investigate the factors that have contributed to the recent interest rate setting.

APRA was asked if lenders’ back book IO repricing practices were “actually opportunistic changes” that had effectively used the APRA speed limits as excuses to garner profit. Deflecting the question, APRA said it would wait to see what came out of inquiries by the ACCC and ASIC, but it was not to blame for any rate hikes, saying “a direct assertion that we made them put up interest rates is clearly not true”.

We think at very least the banks were given an alibi for their rate hikes, which have certainly improved margins significantly.

Finally, the ABS Data on Lending Finance to end July highlighted the rise in commercial lending, other than for investment home investment, was up 2%, while lending for property investment fell as a proportion of all lending, and of lending for residential housing. This included significant falls in NSW, further evidence property investors may be changing their tune.

So, finally some green shoots of business investment perhaps. We really need this to come on strong to drive the growth we need to stimulate wages. The upswing is there, but quite small, so we need to watch the trajectory over the next few months.  Overall lending grew 0.64% in the month, (which would be 7.8% on an annualised basis), way stronger than wages or cpi. So household debt will continue to rise, relative to income, so risks in the property sector continue to grow.

And that’s the Property Imperative to 16th September 2017. If you found this useful, do subscribe to get future updates and thanks for watching.

Author: Martin North

Martin North is the Principal of Digital Finance Analytics

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