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!


Author: Martin North

Martin North is the Principal of Digital Finance Analytics

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