The Mortgage Industry Omnishambles – The Property Imperative 17 March 2018

Today we examine the Mortgage Industry Omnishambles. And it’s more than just a flesh wound!

Welcome to the Property Imperative Weekly to 17th March 2018. Watch the video, or read the transcript.

In this week’s review of property and finance news we start with the latest January data from the ABS which shows lending for secured housing rose 0.14% or 28.8 million to $21.1 billion. Secured alterations fell 1%, down $3.9 million to $391 million.  Fixed personal loans fell 0.1%, down $1.2 million to $4.0 billion, while revolving loans fell 0.06%, down $1.3 million to $2.2 billion.

Investment lending for construction of dwellings for rent rose 0.86% or $10 million to $1.2 billion. Investment lending for purchase by individuals fell 1.34%, down $127.7 million to $9.4 billion, while investment lending by others rose 7.7% up $87.2 million to $1.2 billion.

Fixed commercial lending, other than for property investment rose 1.25% of $260.5 million to $21.1 billion, while revolving commercial lending rose 2.5% or $250 million to $10.2 billion.

The proportion of lending for commercial purposes, other than for investment housing was 45% of all commercial lending, up from 44.5% last month.

The proportion of lending for property investment purposes of all lending fell 0.1% to 16.6%.

So, we are seeing a rotation, if a small one, towards commercial lending for more productive purposes. However, lending for property and for investment purposes remains quite strong. No reason to reduce lending underwriting standards at this stage or weaken other controls.

But this also explains the deep rate cuts the banks are now offering – even to investors – ANZ Bank and the National Australia Bank were the last of the big four to announce cuts to their fixed rates, following similar announcements from the Commonwealth Bank and Westpac. NAB has dropped its five-year fixed rate for owner-occupied, principal and interest home loans by 50 basis points, from 4.59 per cent to 4.09 per cent. The bank has also reduced its fixed rates on investor loans by up to 35 basis points, with rates starting from 4.09 per cent. And last week ANZ also dropped fixed rates on its “interest in advance”, interest-only home loans by up to 40 basis points, with rates starting from 4.11 per cent. Further, fixed rates on its owner-occupied, principal and interest home loans have fallen by 10 basis points, with rates now starting from 3.99 per cent.  This fixed rate war shows our big banks are not pricing in a rate hike anytime soon.

But we think these offers will likely encourage churn among existing borrowers, rather than bring new buyers to the market.  For example, the ABS housing finance data showed that in original terms, the number of first home buyer commitments as a percentage of total owner occupied housing finance commitments rose to 18.0% in January 2018 from 17.9% in December 2017 – and this got the headline from the real estate sector, but the absolute number of first time buyers fell, thanks mainly to falls of 22.3% in NSW and of 13.3% in VIC. More broadly, there were small rises in refinancing and investment loans for entities other than individuals.

The latest data from CoreLogic shows home prices fell again this week, with Sydney down for the 27th consecutive week, and their index registering another 0.09% drop, whilst auction volumes were down on last week. They say that last week, the combined capital city final auction clearance rate fell to 63.3 per cent across a lower volume of auctions with 1,764 held, down from the 3,026 auctions over the week prior when a slightly higher 63.6 per cent cleared.  The weighted average clearance rate has continued to track lower than results from last year; when over the corresponding week 75.1 per cent of the 1,473 auctions sold.

But the strategic issues this week relate to the findings from the Royal Commission and from the ACCC on mortgage pricing. I did a separate video on the key findings, but overall it was clear that there are significant procedural, ethical and even legal issue being raised by the Commission, despite their relatively narrow terms of reference. They cannot comment on bank regulation, or macroprudential, but the Inquiries approach is to examine a series of case studies, from the various submissions they have received, and then apply forensic analysis to dig into the root causes examining misconduct. The question of course is, do the specific examples speak to wider structural questions as we move from the specific instances. We discussed this on ABC Radio this week.

From NAB we heard about referrer’s providing leads to the Bank, outside normal lending practices and processes, and some receiving large commissions, despite not being in the ambit of the responsible lending code. From CBA we heard that the bank was aware of the conflict brokers have especially when recommending an interest only loan, because the trail commission will be higher as the principal amount is not repaid. And from Aussie, we heard about their reliance on lenders to trap fraud, as their own processes were not adequate. And we also heard of examples of individual borrowers receiving loans thanks to poor conduct, or even fraud. We also heard about how income and expenses are sometimes misrepresented. So, the question is, do these various practices show up more widely, and what does this say about liar loans, and mortgage systemic risk?

We always struggled to match the data from our independent household surveys with regards to loan to income, and loan to value, compare with loan portfolios we looked at from the banks. Now we know why. In some cases, income is over stated, expenses are understated, and so loan serviceability is a potentially more significant issue than the banks believe – especially if interest rates rise. In fact, we saw very similar behaviours to the finance industry in the USA before the GFC, suggesting again we may see the same outcomes here. One other point, every lender is now on notice that they need to look at their current processes and back book, to test affordability, serviceability and risk. This is a big deal.

I will also be interested to see if the Commission turns to look at foreclosure activity, because this is the other sleeper. Mortgage delinquency in Australia appears very low, but we suspect this is associated with heavy handed forced sales. Something again which was apparent around the GFC.

More specifically, as we said in a recent blog, the role and remuneration models for brokers are set for a significant shakedown.

Turning to the ACCC report on mortgage pricing, this was also damming. Back in June 2017, the banks indicated that rate increases were primarily due to APRA’s regulatory requirements, but now under further scrutiny they admitted that other factors contributed to the decision, including profitability. Last December, the ACCC was called on by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics to examine the banks’ decisions to increase rates for existing customers despite APRA’s speed limit only targeting new borrowers. The investigation falls under the ACCC’s present enquiry into residential mortgage products, which was established to monitor price decisions following the introduction of the bank levy. Here are the main points.

  1. Banks raised rates to reach internal performance targets: concern about a shortfall relative to performance targets was a key factor in the rate hikes which were applied across the board. Even small increases can have a significant impact on revenue, the report found. And the majority of existing borrowers would likely not be aware of small changes in rates and would therefore be unlikely to switch.
  2. A shared interest in avoiding disruption: Instead of trying to increase market share by offering the lowest interest rates, the big four banks were mainly preoccupied and concerned with each other when making pricing decisions. It shows a failure in competition (my words).
  3. Reputation is everything: The banks it seems were very conscious of how they should explain changes. As it happens, blaming the regulators provides a nice alibi/
  4. For Profit: Internal memos also spoke of the margin enhancement equating to millions of dollars which flowed from lifting investment loans.
  5. New Loans are cheaper, legacy rates are not. Banks of course are offering deep discounts to attract new customers, funded by the back book repricing. The same, by the way, is true for deposits too.

The Australian Bankers Association “silver lining” statement on the report said they welcomed the interim report into residential mortgages, which clearly shows very high levels of discounting in the Australian home loan market. It’s clear that competition is delivering better deals for customers, shopping around works and Australians should continue to do so to get the best discounts on the advertised rate. But they are really missing the point!

We will see if the final report changes, but if not these are damming, but not surprising, and again shows the pricing power the major lenders have.

So to the question of future rate rises. The FED meets this week, and the expectation is they will lift rates again, especially as the TRUMP tax cuts are inflationary, at a time when the US economy is already firing. In a recent report Fitch Ratings said that Central banks are becoming less cautious about normalising monetary policy in the face of strong growth and diminishing spare capacity. They expect the Fed to raise rates no less than seven times before the end of next year. And while still sounding tentative, the European Central Bank is clearly laying firm groundwork for phasing out QE completely later this year. They now also expect the Bank of England to raise rates by 25bp this year.

Guy Debelle, RBA Deputy Governor spoke on “Risk and Return in a Low Rate Environment“.  He explored the consequences of low rates, on asset prices, and asks what happens when rates rise. He suggested that we need to be alert for the effect the rise in the interest rate structure has on financial market functioning, and that investors were potentially too complacent.  There are large institutional positions that are predicated on a continuation of the low volatility regime remaining in place. He had expected that volatility would move higher structurally in the past and this has turned out to be wrong. But He thinks there is a higher probability of being proven correct this time. In other words, rising rates will reduce asset prices, and the question is – have investors and other holders of assets – including property – been lulled into a false sense of security?

All the indicators are that rates will rise – you can watch our blog on this. Rising rates of course are bad news for households with large mortgages, exacerbated by the possibility of weaker ability to service loans thanks to fraud, and poor lending practice. We discussed this, especially in the context of interest only loans, and the problems of loan resets on the ABC’s 7:30 programme on Monday.  We expect mortgage stress to continue to rise.

There was more discussion this week on Housing Affordability. The Conversation ran a piece showed that zoning is not the cause of poor affordability, and neither is supply of property. Indeed planning reform they say is not a housing affordability strategy.  Australia needs a more realistic assessment of the housing problem. We can clearly generate significant dwelling approvals and dwellings in the right economic circumstances. Yet there is little evidence this new supply improves affordability for lower-income households. Three years after the peak of the WA housing boom, these households are no better off in terms of affordability. In part, this may reflect that fact that significant numbers of new homes appear not to house anyone at all. A recent CBA report estimated that 17% of dwellings built in the four years to 2016 remained unoccupied. If we are serious about delivering greater affordability for lower-income Australians, then policy needs to deliver housing supply directly to such households. This will include more affordable supply in the private rental sector, ideally through investment driven by large institutions such as super funds. And for those who cannot afford to rent in this sector, investment in the community housing sector is needed. In capital city markets, new housing built for sale to either home buyers or landlords is simply not going to deliver affordable housing options unless a portion is reserved for those on low or moderate incomes.

But they did not discuss the elephant in the room – booming credit. We discussed the relative strength of different drivers associated with home price rises in a separate, and well visited blog post, Popping The Housing Affordability Myth. But in summary, the truth is banks have pretty unlimited capacity to create more loans from thin air – FIAT – let it be. It is not linked to deposits, as claimed in classic economic theory.  The only limit on the amount of credit is people’s ability to service the loans – eventually. With that in mind, we built a scenario model, based on our core market model, which allows us to test the relationship between home prices, and a series of drivers, including population, migration, planning restrictions, the cash rate, income, tax incentives and credit.

We found the greatest of these is credit policy, which has for years allowed banks to magic money from thin air, to lend to borrowers, to drive up home prices, to inflate the banks’ balance sheet, to lend more to drive prices higher – repeat ad nauseam! Totally unproductive, and in fact it sucks the air out of the real economy and money directly out of punters wages, but make bankers and their shareholders richer. One final point, the GDP calculation we use in Australia is flattered by housing growth (triggered by credit growth). The second driver of GDP growth is population growth.  But in real terms neither of these are really creating true economic growth. To solve the property equation, and the economic future of the country, we have to address credit. But then again, I refer to the fact that most economists still think credit is unimportant in macroeconomic terms! The alternative is to continue to let credit grow well above wages, and lift the already heavy debt burden even higher. Current settings are doing just that, as more households have come to believe the only way is to borrow ever more. But, that is, ultimately unsustainable, and this why there will be an economic correction in Australia, and quite soon. At that point the poor mortgage underwriting chickens will come home to roost. And next time we will discuss in more detail how these scenarios are likely to play out. But already we know enough to show it will not end well.

Could AI Solve The Broker Problem?

Given the tenor of the Royal Commission responsible lending inquiries this week, which focussed on the complexities of brokers and lenders complying with their responsible lending obligations, we believe the future will be distinctly digital. Our banking innovation life cycle road map calls this out.

To illustrate the point, there was a timely announcement from the Opica Group who have a new, and they claim Australia’s first responsible lending engine” (RELIE). This from The Adviser.

A new artificial intelligence-based expenses verification engine has been launched for brokers and lenders to ensure responsible lending and compliance obligations are met.

Billing the tech as “Australia’s first responsible lending engine” (RELIE), the Opica Group has launched the platform to help “protect any broker or lender from a breach of their responsible lending requirements”.

According to Opica Group founder Brett Spencer, the platform is needed because “lenders traditionally have been very quick to put blame on brokers for any application that goes sour”.

Mr Spencer said that following a tighter regulatory environment and “greater scrutiny being placed on our industry by regulators”, the group identified that “brokers needed something that provided them some protection”.

As such, it built the RELIE platform to enable brokers (and lenders) to perform a “RelieCheck” that could prove they had done the adequate checks into expenses and the consumer’s ability to service the loan.

How it works

The RELIE engine makes use of a specially built artificial intelligence engine, Sherlock™, which analyses a consumer’s banking and credit card transaction data over a period of 12 months and automatically provides “income verification, an understanding of the client’s mandatory expenditure, and therefore their ability to service a loan”.

According to the group, the key differentiator of the RELIE platform when compared to credit checks is that it uses machine learning to categorise transactions, allowing for the differentiation of transaction types, including mandatory versus discretionary expenditure and recurring versus one-off spending.

It also automatically highlights areas of concerns within the transaction data such as undisclosed debts, spikes in expenditure of high-risk categories such as gambling, and possible changes in life circumstances such childbirth.

Mr Spencer commented: “With the advancements in technology and legislation crackdown, we saw an opportunity to protect brokers and automate significant components of an applicant’s income and expense verification process…

“We believe that running a RelieCheck will protect any broker or lender from a breach of their responsible lending requirements.”

Speaking to The Adviser, Mr Spencer elaborated: “While a credit check simply looks at your credit worthiness, a RelieCheck looks at the consumer’s 365-day spending and income transactions and interrogates the data from a responsible lending perspective.

“It then presents back to the broker or lender a summary of exactly what, when and where an applicant’s income and expense are positioned.”

However, the Opica Group founder said that while the AI engine “does all the grunt work” to auto categorise and allocate spends to a range of buckets (such as mandatory versus discretionary expenses), the broker is able to review each category of spend and re-allocate expenses to a different category as part of their responsible lending discussions with the customers.

Each change made is then notated by the broker in order to meet their responsible lending requirements.

Revealing that the engine has been 16 months in the making, Mr Spencer said that the group wanted to “create a platform that a broker could use to protect themselves from any unintended breach of their responsible lending requirements”.

He added: “We also wanted to speed up the physically demanding process of paper-based statement reviews so that a broker could reduce the amount of time it takes to process a loan, and in the process providing a far greater service to the customer.”

Opica Group revealed that “early indications” have shown that by performing a RelieCheck on an applicant, a broker or lender could reduce processing times by approximately 90 minutes per application (when compared to manual assessment of the applicant’s banking and credit card transactions).

Mr Spencer concluded: “We want to create a new industry standard.

“Data is a commodity, but what you do with the data is the key ingredient.”

He added that he did not believe anyone else was thinking about “what we do with the data to aid the lending process”.

Opica Group is reportedly working with a number of aggregators and lenders to establish whether the engine could be integrated into their customer relationship management (CRM) systems. The service costs $15 (plus GST) per applicant for a broker account, or $10 (plus GST) per applicant for an aggregator or lender account.

Aussie Home Loans Relied On The Banks To Trap Mortgage Fraud

From Business Insider.

CBA owned mortgage broker Aussie Home Loans does not have the capability to detect fraud committed by its brokers and instead waits until the banks detect scams and alert them as it does not have the resources.

The admissions were made by Aussie Home Loans general manager of people and culture Lynda Harris in a second day of questioning at the banking royal commission from counsel assisting Rowena Orr, QC.

It was revealed the company had recently bolstered the risk and compliance function at the broker to a total of nine employees.

Ms Harris was being questioned about the process behind the termination of an Aussie Home Loans broker Emma Khalil. Ms Khalil submitted multiple loan applications that were based on fake supporting documents including many from the same employer and with the same details.

“We don’t have that, we are reliant on the lenders to provide that expertise because ultimately they are the organisation that is approving the loans,” Lynda Harris said.

The fraud was not picked up until the client applied for a credit card with Westpac using different income details.

After the extent of the fraud committed by Ms Khalil was revealed, multiple internal emails between Aussie management revealed the broker was waiting for confirmation from Westpac before acting.

“If Westpac find that there was fraudulent activity on her part and revoke her accreditation, then that will be in breach of her contract and ultimately result in her termination from Aussie,” one such email read.

Ms Orr asked why Aussie was waiting to hear back from Westpac before terminating the employment of Ms Khalil despite identifying a number of suspect loans supported by similar or identical fake letters of employment.

“So Westpac – and in fact all large banks, have credit specialists and fraud teams that have the expertise to be able to determine fraud. We don’t have that, we are reliant on the lenders to provide that expertise because ultimately they are the organisation that is approving the loans,” Ms Harris said.

“What I want to put to you, Ms Harris, is that it’s not good enough, it’s not good enough that Aussie Home Loans outsources to a third party investigations of a fraudulent conduct made against one of its own employees. What do you say to that?” Ms Orr asked.

Ms Harris replied by saying that Ms Harris was not an employee of Aussie Home Loans and was in fact an independent contractor. She also said that company was not able to justify the expense.

Following an incredulous look from Ms Orr, Commissioner Ken Hayne sought clarification of the point

“It is open to me to conclude from your evidence from the time of the Khalil events and earlier, Aussie was of the view it was the role of the lender to investigate and determine whether there was fraud associated with one or more transactions?”

“Is it open to conclude from what you have told me that it remains Aussie’s view that it is for the lender and not Aussie to investigate and determine whether there was fraud associated with one or more transactions?”

Ms Harris explained the mortgage broker continued to invest in its systems and processes and hoped to develop a fulsome and rigorous process for the detection of anomalies in the loans submitted by its brokers.

She said the mortgage broker was developing a dashboard that would give it better visibility over its network however it was still in pilot phase.

The Problem Of Introducers, and HEM

The Banking Royal Commission has already cast a spotlight on so called Introducer Programmes, which allows professionals like lawyers, accountants and even real estate agents to be rewarded for flagging a potential mortgage lead to a bank. They are paid if the lead is converted by the bank.

As they are not providing financial advice, there is no formal regulation, only “professional” standards that they should disclose any financial reward for such activities. But how many do?  Would you know?

This is, to put it mildly, a black hole. NAB showed that between 2013 and 2016 its introducer program brought in mortgages worth $24 billion, while paying out around $100 million in commissions to its introducers, or about 0.4%. Given that mortgage brokers get around 0.68% plus a trail, for doing significant work to steer an application through, introducers get money for old rope.

ASIC already highlighted this practice during evidence to the Productivity Commission review into Financial Services.  An ASIC representative emphasised that although there is an exemption within the law for referrers, he noted that there is now “a fairly large industry of referrers comprising professionals, lawyers, accountants and advisers who do directly refer consumers to particular lender[s]” and that the commissions paid to these referrers “can be quite significant.

Disclosure needs to be tightened, and I question whether there is a role for such introduces at all.

Separately at the RC, we learnt that the banks are talking about adopting an updated HEM (the Melbourne Institute based benchmark). “The Household Expenditure Measure (HEM) is a measure that reflects a modest level of weekly household expenditure for various types of families. The Melbourne Institute produces the quarterly HEM report which is distributed through RFi Roundtables”.

The HEM is used to benchmark household expenditure as part of a loan application, and it looks like revisions will hit later in the year. But the RC probed whether there was a first mover disadvantage (as the metrics would lead to less ability to lend) and whether this is why there was an industry led coordinated approach.

Does the fact that there is an industry panel trying to deal with this motivate it, in part, by the avoidance of first mover penalty?—No. Well, that certainly wasn’t the motivation to set up the working group. It is something that has been discussed though, is with a number of changes coming this year in terms of uplifting serviceability standards, such as comprehensive credit, changes to HEM and new 25 measures such as debt to income ratios, it has been something discussed around the first mover disadvantage.

I wonder if the ACCC would have a view?

The RC also probed whether the HEM adequately reflected true levels of expenditure, as it was based on  a “modest” lifestyle.

The story continues….

ABC 730 Does Irresponsible Lending

The ABC cited a Western Australian borrower who managed to get mortgages – often interest only loans – for more than a dozen properties without the financial status to service them.

I provided some grabs for the segment, referring to the size of the impending IO loan problem across the country.

Highly relevant in the context of the upcoming Royal Commission hearings which start tomorrow. They just published a background paper on: Everyday Consumer Credit – Overview of Australian Law Regulating Consumer Home Loans, Credit Cards and Car Loans

Norway Tightens Mortgage Regulation

Norway, one of the countries mirroring the Australian mortgage debt bubble (223%) has taken steps to tighten mortgage lending further. This includes a limit of 5x gross annual income and a 5% interest rate buffer.

According to Moody’s, last Wednesday, the Norwegian Financial Services Authority (FSA) proposed to the Ministry of Finance a new regulation on requirements for residential loans. The proposed national regulation is based on existing and Oslo-specific policy measures introduced in January 2017 and scheduled to expire 30 June 2018 that cap the portion of a mortgage that does not comply with the national applicable loan-to-value (LTV) ratio limit at 8% from 10% previously. Extending these measures past their scheduled expiration will contain borrower leverage, a structural risk for Norway’s banking sector, and dampen house price inflation, both credit positive.

The proposal maintains the maximum LTV for home equity credit lines at 60%, continues to cap the LTV on mortgages at 85%, and leaves unchanged the limit on borrowers’ aggregate debt at 5x gross annual income. However, the FSA suggests eliminating the existing LTV limit of 60% for secondary homes located in Oslo (see exhibit).

Household debt reached a record 223% of disposable income in June 2017, far above that of other Nordic countries, and we expect it to remain close to current levels over the next 12-18 months. This trend remains a structural risk for Norway’s banking sector.

Although the Ministry of Finance will make the final decision on whether to accept the recommendation and in what form, the proposal is a step to improve mortgage underwriting standards by containing borrower leverage. Norwegian banks are retail focused, with mortgages accounting for almost 50% of their total lending. The proposed expansion of the previously Oslo-specific measures will improve banks’ asset quality and increase mortgage competition in Oslo. Smaller regional banks will be able to compete for mortgages in Oslo with DNB Bank ASA (Aa2/Aa2 negative, a34), which has the largest share of Oslo’s retail market, because they will be able to account for deviations from the suggested LTV limits against their entire loan book rather than the small share of Oslo-originated loans in accordance with current regulation.

House prices in Norway have declined 4.2% since peaking in March 2017. The decline followed the Ministry of Finance’s 2017 implementation of tighter mortgage lending criteria in response to accelerating property price inflation and rising household indebtedness. The restrictions have cut demand for investment properties in large city centres, particularly the Oslo metropolitan area, where house prices have grown fastest in recent years.

The Interest Only Loan Problem – The Property Imperative Weekly 24 Feb 2018

What’s the story with Interest only? Welcome to the Property Imperative Weekly to 24th February 2018.

Welcome to the latest weekly digest of property and finance news. Watch the video or read the transcript.

Michelle Bullock from the RBA spoke about Mortgage Stress and Investor Loans this week. She argued that, based on HILDA data from 2016, mortgage stress was not a major issue, (we beg to differ) but also warned there were elevated risks to Property Investors, and especially those holding interest only loans.  This mirrors APRA’s warnings the previous week. She said that investors have less incentive than owner-occupiers to pay down their debt. Many take out interest-only loans so that their debt does not decline over time. If housing prices were to fall substantially, therefore, such borrowers might find themselves in a position of negative equity more quickly than borrowers with an equivalent starting LVR that had paid down some principal. The macro-financial risks are potentially heightened with investor lending. For example, since it is not their home, investors might be more inclined to sell investment properties in an environment of falling house prices in order to minimise capital losses. This might exacerbate the fall in prices, impacting the housing wealth of all home owners. As investors purchase more new dwellings than owner-occupiers, they might also exacerbate the housing construction cycle, making it prone to periods of oversupply and having a knock on effect to developers.

So we did some further analysis on Interest Only Loans, we already identified that conservatively $60 billion of loans will fail current underwriting standards on reset, which is more than 10% of the portfolio.  We discussed this with Ross Greenwood on 2GB’s Money Show.

But how many loans are interest only, and what is the value of these loans? A good question, and one which is not straightforward to answer, as the monthly stats from the RBA and ABS do not split out IO loans. They should.

The only public source is from APRA’s Quarterly Property Exposures, the next edition to December 2017 comes out in mid March, hardly timely. So we have to revert to the September 2017 data which came out in December. This data is all ADI’s with greater than $1 billion of term loans, and does not include the non-bank sector which is not reported anywhere!

They reported that 26.9% of all loans, by number of loans were IO loans, down from a peak of 29.8% in September 2015. They also reported the value of these loans were 35.4% of all loans outstanding, down from a peak of 39.5% in September 2015.

So, what does this trend look like. Well the first chart shows the value of loans in Sept 2017 was $549 billion, down from a peak of $587 billion in March 2017. The number of loans outstanding was 1.56 million loans, down from a peak of 1.69 million loans in December 2016.

If we plot the trends by number of loans and value of loans, we see that the value exposed is still very high. Finally, the average loan size for IO loans is significantly higher at $347,000 compared with $264,300 for all loans. Despite the fall in volume the average loan size is not falling (so far). The point is the regulatory intervention is having a SMALL effect, and there is a large back book of loans written, so the problem is risky lending has not gone away.

US Mortgage rates continue to climb, following the recent FED minutes which were more upbeat, and continues to signal more rate hikes this year. As a result, average rates moved to their highest levels in more than 4 years.  Moody’s made the point that US Government debt will likely rise by 5.9% in the next year, significantly faster than private sector debt, yet argued that this might not be sufficient to drive rates higher. On the other hand, Westpac argues that the Fed may have to lift rates faster and higher than many expect thanks to strong wage growth and higher government spending, and are forecasting rises of 1.25% ahead. This would have a significant knock-on effect.  In fact, the recent IMF country report on Australia forecast that the average mortgage rate in Australia would rise by 2% to 7.1% in 2021.  That would cause some pain (and lift mortgage stress from ~920k to 1.25m households on our models. We heard this week that the ACCC is due to release its interim report into residential mortgage pricing shortly. As directed by the Treasurer, a key focus will be on transparency, particularly how the major banks balance the interests of consumers and shareholders in making their interest rate decisions.  And the RBA minutes seemed to suggest a wait and see approach to changing the cash rate.

The Royal Commission continues its deep dive into lending misconduct, and announced the dates for the next set of hearings in early March. They also released a background document spotlighting Mortgage Brokers. The data highlights broker share is up to 55% of mortgages, and some of the largest players are owned by the big banks, for example Aussie, is owned by CBA.

Separately ASIC discussed structural conflicts from the relationship between Financial Planners and Mortgage Brokers and the companies who own them and the commission structures which are in place. To reduce the impact of ownership structure, ASIC proposed that participants in the industry “more clearly disclose their ownership structures”.

When asked whether mortgage brokers should come under “conflicted remuneration laws”, ASIC’s Peter Kell said: “There’s been a lot of work done on this, so it’s difficult to get a yes or no answer, but we’ve obviously highlighted in our report that we think there are some aspects of the way that remuneration works in the mortgage-broking sector that would be better to take out of the sector because they raise unreasonable conflicts.”

However, the Productivity Commission has gone a step further by calling for a legal provision to be imposed by ASIC to require lender-owned aggregators to work in the “best interest” of customers.

Draft recommendation 8.1 reads: “The Australian Securities and Investments Commission should impose a clear legal duty on mortgage aggregators owned by lenders to act in the consumer’s best interests.

“Such a duty should be imposed even if these aggregators operate as independent subsidiaries of their parent lender institution, and should also apply to the mortgage brokers operating under them.”

We caught up with several investment management teams this week who are in the country visiting the major banks as part of their regular reviews. One observation which came from these is that the major banks generally believe there will be very little change coming from the plethora of reviews currently in train, so it will be business as usual. We are less sure, as some of the issues being explored appear to be structurally significant.

Economic news this week included the latest wage price data from the ABS. You can clearly see the gap between trend public and private sector rates, with the private sector sitting at 1.9% and public sector 2.4%. The CPI was 1.9% in December, so no real growth for more than half of all households! Victoria was the highest through the year wage growth of 2.4 per cent and The Northern Territory recorded the lowest of 1.1 per cent. So if you want a wage rise, go to the Public Sector in Victoria!

There were more warnings, this time from comparison site Mozo on the risks of borrowers grabbing the “cheap” special mortgage offers which are flooding the market at the moment. Crunching the numbers in the Mozo database, they found that homeowners could pay as much as 174 basis points more when the ‘honeymoon period’ on their home loan ends. In fact, the research revealed that the average homeowner with a $300,000 home loan could end up paying as much as $3,423 in additional interest charges each year if they’re caught taking the introductory rate bait. But this can become an even more costly error when you consider how much extra interest you could end up paying over the life of the loan.

And mortgage underwriting standards continue to tighten as NAB has made a change to its home lending policy amid concerns over the rising household debt to income ratio and as APRA zeroes in on loan serviceability. From Friday, 16 February, the loan to income ratio used in its home lending credit assessment has been changed from 8 to 7.  With the new change, loan applications with an LTI ratio of 7 or less will proceed as normal and will be subject to standard lending criteria, according to the note. But stop and think about this, because a loan to income of 7 is hardly conservative in the current environment. In fact, when I used to underwrite mortgages we used a basic calculation of no more than 3.5 times one income plus one time any second income. We still think underwriting is too loose.

Finally home prices continued to drift lower, especially in Sydney according to CoreLogic, who also said the final auction clearance rate across the combined capital cities rose to 66.1 per cent across a higher volume of auctions last week, with 1,992 auctions held, increasing from the 1,470 auctions the week prior when 63.7 per cent cleared.  But last week’s clearance rate was lower than the 74.9 per cent recorded one year ago when volumes were higher (2,291). So momentum is still sluggish.

We think lending standards, and misconduct will be coming to the fore in the coming couple of weeks leading up to the next Banking Commission Hearing sessions. Remember this, if a loan is judged as “suitable”, it opens the door for recourse to the lender, which may include cancellation or alternation of the loan. Now, if volumes of interest only loans were judged “not suitable” this could open the flood gates on potential claims. Things might just get interesting!


Cheap Home Loan Bait Could Cost You Dear

More warnings, this time from comparison site Mozo on the risks of borrowers grabbing the “cheap” special mortgage offers which are flooding the market at the moment.

Aussie lenders are luring prospective home loan customers with competitive introductory rates, but these could cost you thousands in unnecessary interest over the long run, according to recent Mozo research.

Crunching the numbers in the Mozo database, we found that homeowners could pay as much as 174 basis points more when the ‘honeymoon period’ on their home loan ends.

In fact the research revealed that the average homeowner with a $300,000 home loan could end up paying as much as $3,423 in additional interest charges each year if they’re caught taking the introductory rate bait.

But this can become an even more costly error when you consider how much extra interest you could end up paying over the life of the loan, said Mozo Director, Kirsty Lamont.

“If borrowers fail to check the fine print they can end up stuck with a loan that has an uncompetitive ongoing rate after the introductory period ends,” she said.

“That mistake can end up costing you tens of thousands of dollars in extra interest over the term of the loan.”

NAB Trims Loan To Income To 7x

From Australian Broker.

NAB has made a change to its home lending policy amid concerns over the rising household debt to income ratio and as APRA zeroes in on loan serviceability.

From Friday, 16 February, the loan to income ratio used in its home lending credit assessment has been changed from 8 to 7.

“Regulatory bodies have raised concerns about Australia’s household debt-to-income ratio, which has risen significantly over the past decade,” said NAB in a note to brokers.

It said it is committed to ensuring its customers can meet their home loan repayments now and into the future.

With the new change, loan applications with an LTI ratio of 7 or less will proceed as normal and will be subject to standard lending criteria, according to the note.

For an application with an LTI ratio of more than 7, the bank will automatically decline or refer it depending on the income structure, i.e. pay as you go or self-employed.

NAB said its serviceability calculator will be updated to reflect these changes.

The bank introduced an LTI ratio calculation for all home loan applications last year. It was also last year when it started declining interest-only loans for customers with high LTI ratios.

As Australian Broker reported in July 2017, the bank extended the use of LTI calculation to determine the credit decision outcome for all interest-only home loan applications.

NAB said then that tougher serviceability assessments for interest-only loans would help strengthen its lending policies.

The bank’s latest change to its credit policy comes after after ANZ and Westpac made changes to their assessment and approval of borrowers.

Westpac recently introduced strict tests of residential property borrowers’ current and future capacities to repay their loans, to identify scenarios that might affect their ability to service their debts.

From 26 February, brokers who make changes to a loan application that has been submitted to Westpac will have to resubmit it.

Similarly, ANZ added “a higher level of approval for some discretions” used in its home loan policy for assessing serviceability. It was also reported to be clipping the discretion of its frontline mortgage assessors.

Stricter assessment of borrowers’ ability to repay their loans will likely become the norm now that APRA is focusing on serviceability in its proposal that targets higher-risk residential mortgage lending.

The prudential regulator released a discussion paper on 14 February proposing changes to authorised deposit-taking institutions’ capital framework and addressing what it calls systemic concentration of ADI portfolios in residential mortgages.

Major banks toughen serviceability assessment

From Australian Broker.

ANZ and Westpac Group are said to have introduced confidential changes to their assessment and approval of borrowers.

The Australian Financial Review reported yesterday (15 February) that ANZ was clipping the discretion of its frontline mortgage assessors.

A spokesman for ANZ said the bank recently added “a higher level of approval for some discretions” used in its home loan policy for assessing serviceability.

The spokesman said the move was not a change to the bank’s credit policy or underwriting standards and that it applies to all housing loans, not just those originated through brokers.

Mortgage brokers claim banks seem to be showing less flexibility in interpreting guidelines on such matters as irregular income when assessing loan applications, said the AFR.

The report also said that Westpac recently introduced strict tests of residential property borrowers’ current and future capacities to repay their loans.

The change is said to be intended to identify scenarios that might affect borrowers’ capacity to pay back their loans. These scenarios include having dependents with special needs that might require borrowers to spend on long-term care and treatment.

Brokers who make any changes to a loan application that has been submitted have to alert the bank from 26 February, said the report.

Earlier this month, Westpac amended its borrowing terms, including allowing the use of desktop valuations only for a maximum LVR of 90%.

A Westpac spokesperson told Australian Broker that the bank has also updated its household expenditure measure in line with the benchmark published by the Melbourne Institute for Social and Economic Research.

This followed Westpac’s announcement in December that it would require home loan borrowers to disclose what they owe on short-term buy-now, pay-later loans on digital credit platforms like AfterPay and ZipPay. The move was part of the bank’s effort to bolster its assessment of borrowers’ loan serviceability.

Stricter assessment of borrowers’ ability to repay their loans will likely become the norm among lenders now that APRA is focusing on serviceability in its proposal that targets higher-risk residential mortgage lending.

The prudential regulator released a discussion paper on 14 February proposing changes to authorised deposit-taking institutions’ capital framework and addressing what it calls systemic concentration of ADI portfolios in residential mortgages.