Preliminary Clearance Rate Increases to 71.7%, While Auction Volumes Remain Steady

From CoreLogic.

This week across the combined capital cities, the preliminary auction clearance rate rose to 71.7 per cent, up from last week when the final clearance rate fell to 67.5 per cent. There were 2,041 capital city auctions this week, virtually unchanged from last week’s 2,040 auctions as well as being higher than the 1,795 auctions held one year ago.

Volumes continue to track higher than what was seen over the corresponding July-August period last year. Across the two largest markets, Melbourne’s preliminary clearance rate rose this week (77.7 per cent), after last week’s final results saw a weakening in the rate of clearance, falling below 70 per cent for the first time since July 16 (69.8 per cent), while Sydney’s clearance rate also improved up to 70.8 per cent this week, however volumes were lower week-on-week in Sydney, while Melbourne held more auctions this week than last.

2017-08-21--CapitalCityAuctionResults

Westpac Q3 Update – Capital Strong, But Mortgage Risks Higher

Westpac released their Q3 Capital update today. The CET1 ratio was 10% at 30 June 2017, and equivalent to 15.3% on a comparable international basis.  This is higher than expected helped by strong dividend reinvestment.  They said they would provide further guidance on their preferred CET1 range (8.75%-9.25%) once APRA finalises its capital adequacy framework review.

The Net table funding ratio was 108% and the liquidity coverage ratio was 128%. The bank is well placed on these key ratios.

Stressed exposures TCE decreased by 4 basis points to 1.10%. Most sectors, including commercial property, mining and New Zealand dairy improved.

Unsecured delinquencies rose in the quarter, up 12 basis points to 1.75% mostly due to APRA hardship reporting changes. Changes in the reporting of hardship have had an impact on the level of reported delinquencies, with mortgage 90+ day up 16 basis points and unsecured consumer lending the change lifted 90+ day by 49 basis points. Cyclone Debbie caused a further rise.

30+ day delinquencies were at 138 basis points, compared with 139 in March, and 130 in Sept 16. 90+ delinquencies were 69 basis points, compared with 67 in March. The number of properties in possession rose from 382 to 422, mainly due to a rise in WA and QLD.  The WA trend is visible, thanks to weaker economic conditions.  Actual losses for the 9 months was a low $57 million.

Westpac provided further details of the changes in their mortgage book, thanks to the regulatory intervention on IO loans. IO loans are at least 50 basis points higher than the equivalent P&I loan. Investment loans are at least 47 basis points higher than the equivalent OO loan.

They have imposed a maximum LVR of 80% for all new IO loans (including limit increases, term extensions and switches. They are no longer accepting external refinances from other financial institutions for OO IO.  There are no fees to switch from IO to P&I.

The say the flow of IO lending was 44% in 3Q17, with applications 36% of flows (down from 52% and 47% in 2Q17). Despite seeing settlements above 30% IO, currently, they say they should be below 30% by 4Q17 – September 17.

The 30% IO cap incorporates all new IO loans, including bridging finance, construction loans, lines of credit as well as limit increases on existing loans. The IO cap excludes flows from switching between repayment types, such as IO to P&I or from P&I to IO and also excludes term extensions of IO terms within product maximums (5 years for IO OO and 10 years for investor loans).

They also described their mortgage warehouse, with Westpac providing funding for over 20 Australian mortgage originators (both ADI and non-ADI). The bank’s warehouse limits have been stable at around $10bn, but asset balances have been more variable.

 

 

Mortgages and debt: How lending culture is leaving Australians vulnerable

From ABC News.

A decade of housing price rises, low interest rates and relatively easy credit has left Australians carrying the second highest level of household debt in the world.

And despite efforts to tighten lending and to address problems in the lending culture, the ABC’s Four Corners program has learnt bank staff and mortgage brokers are still required to meet tough lending targets and some staff are threatened with dismissal if they do not meet the banks’ requirement to sign up more mortgages.

The problems in the lending culture were acknowledged by the banks themselves earlier this year in a review conducted by the former public service chief, Stephen Sedgwick.

Incentive payments and lending targets are still a primary motivator for bank staff.

Internal performance expectations for Westpac bank lenders, obtained by Four Corners, include targets of six-to-nine home-finance requests a week and between two and three home-loan drawdowns a week.

All the big banks have performance targets.

ANZ chief concedes need for further reform

Most bank CEOs, including Westpac, were unavailable for interview but ANZ chief Shayne Elliott did agree to talk to Four Corners.

Mr Elliott said changes had been made and not all the targets were simply sales targets.

“The targets are small in relation to their overall income,” he said.

Mr Elliott said, following the Sedgewick review, 70 per cent of ANZ’s targets were weighted towards good customer outcomes and customer satisfaction.

“[The targets are] not all about sales, not about the number of mortgages,” he said.

Banking regulators have also moved to tighten lending, forcing banks to make investor loans in particular harder to get — but bank staff told Four Corners they still had to meet tough performance targets.

Four Corners has obtained letters written to lenders by bank branch managers at NAB and Bankwest — owned by the Commonwealth Bank.

The letters warned lenders who had not met their targets that their positions were under review, and both canvassed the possibility of termination.

Mr Elliot conceded there was room for further reform in the industry.

“I think, in terms of our own staff, there will always be room for further improvement,” he said.

But he said there also needed to be a greater focus on the incentives driving the mortgage brokerage industry.

“We’re accountable for the lending, but [for] future reform we need to look at the way that the broking industry is also compensated,” he said.

Some brokers agree.

Philip Dempsey, a former mortgage broker, left the industry after growing increasingly uncomfortable with the commission-only payment system.

“Brokers are under extreme pressure — most of them don’t have a base salary,” he said.

Mr Dempsey said most brokers also had lending targets they had to meet — some as high as $3 million a month.

He said if the targets were not met, the brokers were forced out of the industry.

“There have been people in the industry who have been lending clients too much money, encouraging them to borrow more than what they can comfortably afford,” he said.

A ‘perfect storm’ of issues

Australian banks now hold at least 60 per cent of their loan assets directly to housing.

Concern is growing among some economists and former bankers about the impact of any housing downturn on the banks and on the wider Australian economy.
A shaded line graph showing a rising household debt to income ratio from 1990 to 2015.

 Finance data analyst Martin North gestures with his hands as he speaks to Four Corners.  Photo: Martin North said he had never before seen what he called a "perfect storm" of issues coming together. (ABC News) 

Finance data analyst Martin North conducts a continuous survey of individual household debt and mortgage stress.

He said he had never before seen what he called a “perfect storm” of issues coming together.

“We’ve got very high household debt. We’ve got very high house prices. We’ve got households in some degree of difficulty already,” he said.

“You only need a small consequential change, a small increase in the cost of fuel and stuff, to be able to actually really create that pain point.

“There are a good number of households who are really up against it now.

“It’s a house of cards, I think. It doesn’t take much to see how it could actually go pretty bad.”

Another economist who has raised the alarm is former banker Satiyajit Das.

He said the 60 per cent exposure to mortgage debt in Australia’s banks was “extremely high”.

That figure “is at least 20 per cent higher than Norway, and also higher than Canada, which is a very comparable economy to Australia”, he said.

Australia’s feverish housing market has contributed but Mr Das said other countries that had experienced rapid house price rises did not have the same potentially dangerous exposure.

“One of the biggest housing bubbles in the world is Hong Kong, but the Hong Kong banks have only got exposure to the housing market of around 15 per cent,” he said.

Exposure to housing debt at Australian levels, Mr Das said, would leave banks more vulnerable in the case of any housing downturn.

“If there is a downturn then obviously the losses will build up quite quickly,” he said.

‘Massive affordability problem’ will exacerbate downturn

Gerard Minack, the former head of developed market strategy at Morgan Stanley, said Australia had been led down this path by current tax arrangements and lenders who had been increasingly willing to leverage up borrowers.

This, he said, had created “a massive affordability problem” that will exacerbate the pain associated with any downturn.

Australia now has a household-debt-to-income ratio of 190 per cent.

“For every $1 of household income, there’s [nearly] $2 of debt,” Mr Minack said.

“I can’t think of a single economy that’s had a downturn with that much debt where it’s not been a deep downturn.”

Mr Elliot said ANZ was comfortable with its current loan exposure.

“It is a healthy mix at about 60 per cent, ” he said.

“The reality is that housing loans are pretty good because they’re quite diverse in terms of lots of really small loans across the country.”

Mr Elliot said the impact of a downturn on the bank would depend on its nature.

“It’s something we look at incredibly seriously because it’s in our best interest to make sure that our risk is well managed,” he said.

This is why apartment living is different for the poor

From The Conversation.

There’s been a lot of talk about apartment living of late. Whether it’s millennials who can’t afford to buy a house, downsizers making a lifestyle change, owner-occupiers struggling to get defective buildings fixed, or foreign investors buying into new development, there’s no shortage of opinions and interest.

Except for one group: lower-income and vulnerable residents.

In Greater Sydney, the latest census data show that almost one in five households (17%) living in apartments and townhouses have weekly household incomes of less than A$649.

Among this group the largest sub-group (36%) live in private rental housing. That’s more than 72,000 households living on $649 or less per week in a housing market where average weekly rents for apartments are $550.

Our research for Shelter NSW identifies multiple challenges such households face.

Why does this matter?

It matters because some things about apartment and townhouse living are fundamentally different to living in a house. These differences have particular impacts on lower-income and vulnerable people living in higher-density housing.

The significant differences include:

  • You live closer to your neighbours, so it’s more likely you’ll see, hear or meet them.
  • You share services and spaces with neighbours, from gardens to laundries to lifts.
  • You have to co-operate with other residents and owners to manage and pay for building operation and upkeep.

If you live in a private apartment building then the fact that a large proportion of apartments are sold to investors and rented out will likely have three key impacts on you:

  1. Developers often cater for investors when designing new apartment buildings, so you will likely find a limited variation in apartment designs and sizes available.
  2. Resident turnover in your building may be high, as private renters move more frequently.
  3. Tensions between owner-occupiers and investor-owners may result in disagreements and disputes over budgeting and maintenance.

While these unique aspects of higher-density living can be tricky for anyone, they present particular challenges for lower-income and vulnerable residents. They tend to have less choice about their living arrangements, so they can’t up and move to better-designed, constructed and managed properties if things aren’t working out.

Building flaws affects some residents in particular

Poor building quality is one of the major issues in high-density development in Australia. The problems relate to design, defects and maintenance.

The design issues include noise disturbances as a result of poor design, inadequate solar access and cross ventilation, the availability and flexibility of shared spaces, and safety and security considerations.

Another issue is design that fails to help meet the needs of particular groups (such as people with a disability, and families with children).

Beyond design, the construction quality of higher-density developments is a major issue in Australia. Key concerns include the quantity and severity of building defects, as well as the difficulties owners face having defects fixed.

Among the problems are quality of workmanship, management of construction, private certification, limited warranties and the often-prohibitive cost of legal action.

As with poor design, lower-income households are particularly susceptible to construction issues. This is because there are more incentives to cut corners when constructing more affordable housing. Examples include rushing jobs, hiring cheaper but less experienced tradespeople, or using substandard materials.

Once residents move in, negotiating to fix defects is particularly difficult for private renters, as they typically must go through the real estate agent or landlord. This means renters may be stuck with unsatisfactory living conditions.

Lower-income renters are also likely to be over-represented in poorly maintained buildings, as these are usually cheaper to rent. Compared to a detached house, maintenance in higher-density properties is complicated by the complexity of the buildings themselves and the governance structures.

As a result, required maintenance work is often not carried out, or is reactive rather than proactive. This is especially true in buildings occupied by lower-income renters with no direct recourse to the strata committee. They often cannot afford to move and may fear retaliatory rent increases if they report maintenance issues.

Social relations can be challenging

Neighbour disputes happen everywhere, but evidence suggests disputes are more common in areas with more lower-income and vulnerable residents and with more apartments.

Common causes of neighbour conflict in higher-density housing reflect different expectations about noise levels, parking practices, or spending on maintenance and improvements.

Neighbour disputes can have significant impacts on health. This potentially counteracts the health benefits associated with the walkable nature of many higher-density neighbourhoods.
When disputes arise, the number of stakeholders involved complicates efforts to find a resolution. They might include renters, resident owners, investor owners, building managers, strata managers and strata committee members.

Research with strata residents in New South Wales shows residents find formal dispute resolution mechanisms complex and slow. Most disputes are resolved informally.

Lower-income residents, and renters in particular, are likely to have less influence over the outcomes of such processes.

Fostering positive neighbour relations can be more difficult where resident turnover is high, such as in buildings dominated by private renters. It is also more difficult in poorly designed buildings without quality shared spaces.

New norm promotes inequity

Apartment living is the new norm in Australia. As the nursery rhyme says, when it’s good it’s very, very good, but when it’s bad it’s horrid. If these homes are poorly designed, poorly built, poorly maintained or poorly managed, they are poor places to live.

The market-led housing model that underpins Australia’s compact city policies has meant that people with less money get a poorer product. Few planners or politicians have adequately acknowledged these inequities.

Authors: Hazel Easthope, Senior Research Fellow, City Futures Research Centre, UNSW; Laura Crommelin, Research Associate, City Futures Research Centre, UNSW; Laurence Troy, Research Fellow, City Futures Research Centre, UNSW

ISA accuses banks of dodging FOFA

From InvestorDaily.

The industry super lobby has accused the major banks of attempting to evade the FOFA regulation within their superannuation products.

Industry Super Australia (ISA) recently posted a submission to the Productivity Commission’s inquiry into the efficiency and competitiveness of Australia’s superannuation system.

ISA called for a crackdown on big banks and other for-profit entities who, it said, have been allowed to exploit superannuation fund members in the name of increasing sales.

The lobby group said the current superannuation system is like FOFA – where for-profit companies like the big four banks have been able to circumnavigate or “work around” legislation and exploit consumers for increased sales and insurance commissions.

“From inception, FOFA has been subject to substantial lobbying efforts that seek to weaken it, and for-profit entities have immediately sought to ‘work around’ and adapt to FOFA in a way that maintains as much of their lucrative businesses as possible,” ISA said in the submission.

“For so long as the superannuation system allows participation by entities that have a strong culture of prioritising themselves rather than serving others, this will happen. The inquiry’s proposed default [superannuation] models will certainly be subject to the same dynamic.”

ISA pointed to exemptions in FOFA which currently “allow bank staff to earn volume-related bonus for selling superannuation under general advice”.

FOFA also “allows the payment of commissions on individual life and income protection insurance on policies paid for out of choice superannuation products which provides strong financial incentives for advisers to switch members out of default superannuation products,” ISA said.

ISA pointed to research from the Roy Morgan Superannuation and Wealth Management in Australia 2011 and 2015 reports which showed the big banks shifting away from selling products via financial advisers and an increase in direct sales to consumers instead.

“This activity has almost doubled across the four major banking groups from 10 per cent in the 2011 Report, compared to 19 per cent for the three years to December 2015,” ISA said.

“[This takes] advantage of the lower levels of consumer protection outside personal advice to aggressively sell super directly.”

ISA said regulation and further competition are not the answers for cracking down on misconduct from for-profit entities in the superannuation sector.

“Regulation alone has never been enough to ensure good behaviour. Regulation is particularly unreliable in relation to the finance sector because that sector is especially vigorous in its efforts to influence policy makers,” ISA said.

There is a concern that “each of the inquiry’s proposals seeks to remove superannuation from the industrial system, and envisions private sector, for-profit financial institutions bidding for and winning pools of default superannuation members,” the submission said.

“Such an outcome will deliver to the for-profit part of the super system a ready-made, government-sanctioned, and generally disengaged customer base at a very low acquisition cost.”

Instead there needs to be a focus on culture and values within organisations ISA said.

“The reason why some funds tend to consistently perform well, and prioritise members, is an amalgam of culture, values, institutional objectives, and governance.”

Auction Results 19 Aug 2017

Domain has released the preliminary auction clearance results for today. Melbourne looks like it is leading the way at 78.3% clearance, ahead of Sydney. Still seems to be momentum in the main centres.

Brisbane achieved 50% clearance on 100 scheduled auctions, Adelaide 67% on 67 scheduled, and Canberra 74% of 37 scheduled auctions.

 

The Debt Monster – The Property Imperative Weekly – 19 Aug 2017

Household Incomes are growing at the slowest rate for two decades, putting more strain on family budgets who are wrestling with rising costs and bigger mortgages and battling the debt monster.

What the implications for home prices, and the broader economy? Welcome the Property Imperative weekly to 19th August 2017, as we look at the latest finance and property news.

Last week we saw auction clearance rates accelerate. According to CoreLogic they rose to 2,011, compared with 1,857 over the previous week.  This was the largest number of auctions held since the last week of June 2017 and one third higher compared with the same week a year ago. Melbourne has held the record for the largest number of sales, but Sydney achieved a higher clearance rate at 72%. So not much sign of the property market flagging.

More data came from the RBA when Assistant Governor Christopher Kent discussed insights from a dataset which covers about 280 ‘pools’ of securitised assets and has information on 1.6 million individual mortgages with a total value of around $400 billion. Currently, this accounts for about one-quarter of the total value of home loans outstanding in Australia.

A couple of caveats. While the dataset covers a significant share of the market for housing loans, it may not be entirely representative across all its dimensions. In particular, the choice of assets in the collateral pool may be influenced by the way that credit ratings agencies assign ratings and by investor preferences. Also, in practice it may take quite a while until new loans enter a securitised pool.

But the first thing to note is that rates on owner-occupier loans and investor loans used to be similar, but investor loans became relatively more expensive from the latter part of 2015. In fact, up until most recently, actual rates paid on interest-only loans have been lower than those on principal-and-interest loans. But now, interest only loans are significantly more expensive for both owner-occupied and investor borrowers. This is reflecting recent bank repricing as they seek to repair margins and throttle back interest only lending in response to regulatory pressure. Monthly repayments are on the rise, and on large loans this is a significant impost.

Looking at loan to value ratios, we see that there is a large share of both owner-occupier and investor loans with current LVRs between 75 and 80 per cent. That is consistent with banks limiting the share of loans with LVRs (at origination) above 80 per cent. Also, borrowers have an incentive to avoid the cost of mortgage insurance, which is typically required for loans with LVRs (at origination) above 80 per cent. This is consistent with the DFA market model, and suggests that a common held view that the average LVR is circa 50% is not correct any more. Bigger loans, lower equity, larger repayments.

Finally, they looked at offset accounts, which showed strong growth up to 2015 probably related to the rise in the share of interest-only loans, with the two being offered as a package. Interestingly, we saw a significant slowing in growth in offset balances around the same time as growth in interest-only housing loans started to decline. Offset balances provide some security for borrowers in times of finance stress.  But the RBA highlights that for investor loans, even after accounting for offset balances, there is still a noticeable share of loans with current LVRs of between 75 and 80 per cent. And for both investor and owner-occupier loans, adjusting for offset balances leads to only a small change in the share of loans with current LVRs greater than 80 per cent. This suggests that borrowers with high current LVRs have limited repayment buffers.

Oh, and note there was no analysis at all on the most critical metric – loan to income ratios, which as we have been highlighting is a more reliable risk assessment tool, but one which in Australia we appear loathe to discuss.

This becomes important when we consider that home prices continue to rise in most states. Separate analysis from CoreLogic showed that the cost of housing has continued to rise across most parts of the country over the past 12 months, pushing the proportion of homes selling for at least one million dollars to new record highs.  Bracket creep should come as no surprise in markets like Sydney and Melbourne where dwelling values have increased by 77% and 61% respectively over the past five years.  While the rise in housing values has been most pronounced in Sydney and Melbourne, most other capital cities and regional areas have also seen a proportional lift in home sales over the million-dollar mark.

The banks continue to lend strongly in the mortgage sector, with system growth still sitting around 6% over the past year. ANZ, who reported their third quarter results this week revealed that they had grown their owner occupied lending at 1.3 times system growth, whilst investor loans grew at 0.8%. Lenders are still banking on mortgage credit growth.

The RBA minutes were more muted this month, perhaps because of the reaction to the 2% rate lift to neutral last month, which was hurriedly walked back subsequently! They mentioned concerns about high household debt again, and that inflation is running below 2%. They also mentioned that the Australian Bureau of Statistics intends to update the weights in the CPI in the December quarter 2017 CPI release, to reflect changes in consumers’ spending behaviour over recent years. This is expected to lead to lower reported CPI inflation because the weights of items whose prices had fallen were likely to be higher, whereas the weights of items whose prices had risen were likely to be lower.

Underlying inflation was expected to be close to 2 per cent in the second half of 2017 and to edge higher over the subsequent two years. Retail electricity prices were expected to increase sharply in the September quarter. They said “ongoing low wage growth and the high level of debt on household balance sheets raised the possibility that consumption growth could be lower than forecast”.

The income data from the ABS confirmed low wage growth, with seasonally adjusted, private sector wages up just 1.8 per cent and public sector wages up 2.4 per cent through the year to June quarter 2017. So wages for those not fortunate enough to work in the public sector continues to be devalued in real terms.  Also, whilst more jobs were created in July, the employment rate is still quite high, and underemployment remains a significant factor – one reason why wages growth is unlikely to shift higher.

So, what are the consequences of home lending rising 6%, inflation 2% and incomes below this? The short answer is more debt, and mostly mortgage debt.

To get a feel for the impact of this, look at our recent focus group results.  Around two thirds of the households in the session held a basic assumption that high debt levels were normal. They had often accumulated debts through their education, when they bought a house, and running credit cards. Even more interestingly, their concern from a cash flow perspective was about servicing the debts, not repaying them. One quote which struck home was “once I am dead, my debts are cancelled, I just keep borrowing until then”.

Debt, it seems has become part of the furniture, and will remain a spectre at the feast throughout their lifetime.  The banks will be happy!

So it is worth looking at some long term trends, as we did on Friday using RBA data.

The traditional argument trotted out is that household wealth is greater than ever, this despite low income growth and rising debt. But of course wealth is significantly linked to home prices, which in turn is linked to debt, so this is a circular argument. You get a different perspective by looking at some additional trends.  And if property prices fell it would all turn sour.

But let’s start with the asset side of the ledger. Since 1999, superannuation has grown by 181.2%, and at the fastest rate. But it is arguably the least accessible asset class.

Residential property values rose 160.2% over the same period, and grew significantly faster than equities which achieved 135.8% growth, so no wonder people want to invest in property – the capital returns have been significantly more robust. Deposit savings grew 159.1% (but the savings ratio has been declining recently). Overall household net worth rose 151.2%. So the story about households being more affluent can be supported on this view of the data. But it is myopic.

Overall household debt rose 161.9%, a growth rate which is higher than residential property values, at 160.2% and above overall household net worth at 151.2%.

But the growth in income, which is a puny 60.5%, under half the asset growth. OK, interest rates are lower now, but this increase in leverage is phenomenal – and explains the “debt is normal” findings from our focus groups. I accept debt is not equally spread across the population, but there are significant pockets of high borrowing, as can be seen from our mortgage stress analysis – and it’s not just among battling urban fringe mortgage holders.

Finally, it is worth noting the growth in the number of residential properties rose by just 29.8% over the same period. So the average value of individual properties has increased significantly. On paper.

To me this highlights we have learned nothing from the GFC. Our appetite for debt, supported by the low interest rate monetary policy, significant tax breaks, and salted by population growth has created a debt monster, which has the capacity to consume many if interest rates were to rise towards more normal levels. Unlike Governments, household debt has to be repaid, eventually.

This data series shows clearly the relationship between more debt and home prices, they feed of each other, and this explains why the banks have enjoyed such strong balance sheet growth. But the impact on households is profound, and long term. Our current attitude to debt will be destructive eventually.

If you are interested in this debate, try to watch ABC Four Corners on Monday night, as they will be looking at the housing bubble and mortgage stress, and using some of our data in the programme.

And that’s the Property Imperative to 19th August 2017. If you found this useful, do subscribe to get updates, and check back for next week’s installment. Thanks for watching.

Another Perspective On Debt

We had significant reaction to yesterday’s post on the “normal” status of high household debt. So today we take the argument further using data from the RBA Household Balance Sheet series (E1) and the recent ABS data on income growth.

The traditional argument trotted out is that household wealth is greater than ever, this despite low income growth and rising debt. But of course wealth is significantly linked to home prices, which in turn is linked to debt, so this is a circular argument. You get a different perspective by looking at some additional trends.

But lets start with the asset side of the ledger. We have base-lined the data series from 1999. Since then, superannuation has grown by 181.2%, and at the fastest rate. But it is arguably the least accessible asset class.

Residential property values rose 160.2% over the same period, and grew significantly faster than equities which achieved 135.8% growth, no wonder people want to invest in property – the capital returns have been significantly more robust. Deposit savings grew 159.1% (but the savings ratio has been declining recently). Overall household net worth rose 151.2%. So the story about households being more affluent can be supported on this view of the data. But it is myopic.

The chart below tracks overall household debt, house prices, household net worth, income growth and the growth in the number of residential properties.

Overall household debt rose 161.9%, a growth rate which is higher than residential property values, at 160.2% and above overall household net worth at 151.2%.

But look at the growth in income, which is 60.5%, under half the asset growth. OK, interest rates are lower now, but this increase in leverage is phenomenal – and explains the “debt is normal” findings from our focus groups. I accept debt is not equally spread across the population, but there are significant pockets of high borrowing, as can be seen from our mortgage stress analysis – and its not just among battling urban fringe mortgage holders.

Finally, it is worth noting the growth in the number of residential properties rose by just 29.8% over the same period. So the average value of individual properties have increased significantly. On paper.

To me this highlights we have learned nothing from the GFC, our appetite for debt, supported by the low interest rate monetary policy, significant tax breaks, and salted by population growth has created a debt monster, which has the capacity to consume many if interest rates were to rise towards more normal levels. Unlike Governments, household debt has to be repaid, eventually.

This data series shows clearly the relationship between more debt and home prices, they feed of each other, and this explains why the banks have enjoyed such strong balance sheet growth. But the impact on households is profound, and long term.

Our current attitude to debt will be destructive eventually.

Employment Remains A Mixed Picture

The ABS reported their monthly employment data today, showing that trend full-time employment increased for the 10th straight month in July 2017 but both the trend unemployment rate in Australia was steady at 5.6 per cent in July 2017, and the labour force participation rate remained at 65.0 per cent.

Let’s be clear 5.6% hardly a great result as The New Daily highlights, bearing in mind the unemployment rate in the US, is 4.3%, 4.5% in the UK, 3.9% in Germany and 2.8% in Japan.  Note also that wages are depressed in these countries too. We should not get deflected by the rising number of jobs, which is where the Government would like us to look.  We should be doing better. This does not reflect “full employment”.

Full-time employment grew by a further 29,000 persons, while part-time employment decreased by 3,000 persons, underpinning a total increase in employment of 26,000 persons. The trend monthly hours worked increased by 5.2 million hours (0.3 per cent) to 1,696.4 million hours in July 2017.

Over the past year, trend employment increased by 259,000 persons (or 2.2 per cent), which is above the average year-on-year growth over the past 20 years (1.9 per cent).

The rate of employment growth (2.2 per cent) was greater than the growth in the population aged 15 years and over (1.6 per cent), which was reflected in an increase in the employment to population ratio (which is a measure of how employed the population is). This ratio increased by 0.4 percentage points since July 2016, up to 61.4 per cent, the highest it has been since April 2013.

“Full-time employment has now increased by around 220,000 persons since September 2016, and makes up the majority of the 250,000 person increase in employment over the period,” Chief Economist for the ABS, Bruce Hockman, said.

Over the past year the three states and territories with the strongest growth in employment were Tasmania (4.0 per cent), Victoria (3.1 per cent) and Queensland (2.7 per cent).

Trend series smooth the more volatile seasonally adjusted estimates and provide the best measure of the underlying behaviour of the labour market.

The seasonally adjusted number of persons employed increased by 28,000 in July 2017. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 5.6 per cent and the labour force participation rate was 65.1 per cent.

Is This Amount of Debt “Normal”?

As part of our household survey we had the chance to discuss household debt in our focus group. We had selected participants with large debt burdens, because we wanted to understand better what was driving this behaviour. It was mixed group, with households represented between 20 and 60 years, from multiple locations.  The RBA data showing high household debt prompted the research.

In the session, a number of themes emerged. Yes we got the story about incomes not rising, costs going up and big mortgages; as expected. But there was another theme that struck home to the facilitators.

It is this. Around two thirds of the households in the session had a basic assumption that high debt levels were normal. They had often accumulated debts through their education, when they bought a house, and running credit cards. Even more interestingly, their concern from a cash flow perspective was about servicing the debts, not repaying them.

One quote which struck home was “once I am dead, my debts are cancelled”, I just keep borrowing til then.

Wow! Debt, it seems has become part of the furniture, and will remain a spectre at the feast throughout their lifetime.  The banks will be happy!

But this got me thinking about the implications of this observation. If households are making debt decisions based on just debt servicing, what does that say about their future cash flow in a low income growth, potentially rising interest rate environment? Is this normal behaviour now?  Has financial literacy failed, or is there a new logic in town?

If there is, then I have to ask – am I out of kilter in believing that debt can be useful, but it should be paid down as soon as possible, and that borrowing is the exception, not the rule.  Or is the new normal to be saddled with high debt, and live with it? For ever?

The remaining one third, by the way, were more conscious of the need to repay, and were surprised by the majority view in the room.

No wonder households are more highly in debt than ever as the recent RBA data shows. But what I am getting at are the cultural norms which now exist. As a result, lenders will continue to have a field day, but what are the true economic and social costs of this phenomenon?

We hope to do more research on this. Watch this space.