Auction Results 21 Oct 2017

The preliminary auction clearance results are in from Domain.  Looks like the volume of sales has fallen compared with last week (even though the clearance rate is higher) and last year – all subject to final results later of course. Melbourne is still hotter than Sydney, where our leading indicator research suggests appetite for property is cooling the fastest.

Brisbane achieved 49% clearance on 102 scheduled auctions, Adelaide 70% on 103 scheduled, and Canberra 70% on 49 scheduled auctions.

China, QE and Housing Key Australian Investor Concerns

A China downturn has moved back into the top spot of Australian credit markets risks over the next 12 months, according to Fitch Ratings‘ 4Q17 fixed-income investor survey, with 42% of respondents ranking a hard landing as a high risk, up from 25% in 2Q17. China replaces a domestic housing market downturn as the top risk, which has dropped to third, while the prospect of quantitative easing (QE) withdrawal has moved into second place.

More investors (43%) expect fundamental credit conditions to deteriorate for financials, rather than improve (16%). Property market exposure is still considered the main threat to bank asset quality, although risks were broadly considered to be rising. Most investors also expect bank lending conditions to tighten over the next year.

However, investors are decidedly more upbeat about the economic outlook. More than 80% believe unemployment will not rise above 6% over the next two years and 37% expect house prices to rise over the next three years, up from 23% in our 2Q17 survey. Consistent with this improving outlook, not one investor anticipates interest rates being cut over the next 12 months.

Our 4Q17 survey shows a continued rise in investors expecting cash to be used for capex by Australian corporates; 67% see this as a significant or moderate use of cash, up from 45% in 2Q17 and 33% in 4Q16. However, shareholder oriented activities remain as the most likely use of cash, consistent with the finding of all eight surveys undertaken over the previous four years.

Australian fixed-income investors believe debt issuance is likely to increase over the next 12 months, and structured finance remains the favoured asset class, with 67% expecting issuance to increase, up from 58% in our 2Q17 survey.

A new question introduced in our 4Q17 survey asked investors about the effect of environmental, social and governance risks on their investments. A 60% majority expect an increased financial impact.

The 4Q17 survey was undertaken in partnership with KangaNews – a specialist publishing house that provides commentary on fixed-income markets in Australia and New Zealand. Findings represent the views of managers of more than AUD500 billion of fixed-income assets, accounting for over three-quarters of Australia’s domestic real-money market.

Fitch’s 4Q17 fixed-income investor survey was conducted between 28 August and 11 September 2017. This survey is unique in the Australian context, reflecting the partners’ strong ties with the local investor community.

Pulling In Two Directions – The Property Imperative Weekly 21 Oct 2017

The latest economic and finance data appears to be pulling in two directions, so we discuss the trends.

Welcome to the Property Imperative Weekly to 21st October 2017. Watch the video, or read the transcript!

In this week’s review of the latest finance and property news, we start with data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare in their newly released report Australian Welfare 2017. This is a distillation of data from various public sources, rather than offering new research.

In the housing chapter, they reinforce the well-known fact that home ownership is falling in Australia, while rates have been rising in a number of other comparable countries. Contributing to this trend overseas, at least in part, they say, are changes in the characteristics of households (including population ageing, household structure, and income and education) and policy influences, such as mortgage market innovations (including the relaxation of deposit constraints, increasing home ownership rates among lower income households, and tax reliefs on mortgage debt financing). In Australia, the steepest decline in home ownership rates across the 25 years to 2013–14 has been for people aged 25–34. This is typically the age at which first transitions into home ownership are made. But, fewer and fewer people in this age group are entering home ownership, with a 21 percentage point decline to just 39% in 2013–14 (compared with 60% in 1988–89). Home ownership rates for people aged 35–44 also fell, but not so much (12 percentage points).

Also, the proportion of home owners without a mortgage has continued to fall, while the proportion of renters has increased. Now more home owners have a mortgage, compared with those who own their property outright. Another fact is the startling gap between the rise in home prices, relative to disposable incomes, creating a barrier to home ownership for many. This gap has been fuelled by rapid house price growth (up 250% since the 1990’s), after the financial system was deregulated, with the total value of Australian housing estimated to be more than $6.5 trillion. Of course, the impact of higher house prices has been partially offset by lower mortgage interest rates, increased credit availability and changes in financial agency practices. These favourable lending conditions and low interest rates have encouraged buyers into the market, despite the growth in house prices themselves. This could all got wrong should mortgage rates rise.

The final piece of data shows that households are getting a mortgage later in life, and holding it longer, often well into retirement. In 2013, 71% of people born between 1957 and 1966 (mainly baby boomers), were financing a mortgage when aged 45–54. This trend is of particular concern as these households’ approach retirement without their home and asset base being paid off. For people looking to retire in the next 10 years, 45% of 55–64-year-olds in 2013 were still servicing a mortgage, compared with just 26% in 1982.

As the recent Citi report emphasises, and using our Core Market Data, the large level of debt outstanding by borrowers aged in their 50s and 60s means many investors will need to sell property to discharge their debts, especially those holding interest only loans. Given that the average age of wealthy seniors is 63 and the average IO debt is $236,400, Citi expressed concern that this cohort will not have enough time to repay the principal “without a significant hit to household cash flows”.

We still think the mortgage underwriting standards are too lose in Australia, as regulators try to balance slowing the market, but not killing the goose which is laying the golden economic egg.  So we found the Canadian regulators intervention in their mortgage market this week significant. There the index of house prices to disposable income has increased 25%, from 2000,  raising the prospect that real estate overvaluation is driving up overall household debt and overextending borrowers. So they tightened serviceability requirements and imposed loan to value limits on lenders.

Good news on housing affordability this week from the HIA, at least for some. Their Housing Affordability index for Australia improved by 0.5 per cent in the September 2017 quarter but still remains 4.4 per cent below the level recorded a year ago. It also showed that while some owner occupied borrowers had seen their mortgage rates drop, many property investors, has seen their rates rise. Sydney remains the least affordable market they say.

Our friends at Mozo wrote a blog post for us on the impact of the APRA changes to mortgage rates, which underscored the movements by type of loan.

More good news from the ABS. The monthly trend unemployment rate decreased by 0.2 per cent over the past year to 5.5 per cent in September, the lowest rate seen since March 2013. The participation rate remained steady at 65.2 per cent, within that male participation rate was 70.8 per cent, while the female participation rate reached a record high of 59.9 per cent. Over the past year, the states with the strongest annual growth in employment were Queensland (4.1 per cent), Tasmania (3.9 per cent), Victoria (3.1 per cent) and Western Australia (2.9 per cent). However, the underemployment trend rate still does not look that flash, especially in TAS, SA and WA, and we have a very high unemployment rate among younger workers as well as a rise in more casual, part-time work. All of this translates to lower wages.

The latest data from S&P showed a small decline in mortgage defaults in August. S&P said arrears decreased in all states and territories except the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) over the month, with noticeable improvements in Australia’s mining states and territories. The Northern Territory recorded the largest improvement, with arrears declining to 1.63% from 1.98% a month earlier. In Western Australia, arrears fell to 2.22% in August from a historic high of 2.38% in July. They still warned of potential risks in the system, especially from higher LVR IO loans written before 2015. And of course, this is looking a selection of securitised loans which may not be typical, and in any case, in most places home price rises mean struggling borrowers should have the capacity to sell and repay the bank. That would change if prices started to fall seriously.

Talking of risks, there were interesting comments from ASIC this week, suggesting that whilst brokers may be having appropriate conversations with their interest only mortgage customers, there was evidence of poor record keeping. This follows the regulator’s announcement they would commence a loan file review, to ensure that consumers are not paying for more expensive products that are unsuitable. Without good documentation brokers and lenders leave themselves open to the charge of making unsuitable loans, which can have significant consequences.

Another indicator of potential risks in the system is the rise in the number of households seeking short term loans from pay day lenders and other providers. Our surveys show that more than 1.4 million of the 9.5 million households in Australia are looking for finance (and it is rising fast as cash flows are stressed). Not all will successfully obtain a loan. We think more than $1 billion in loans are out there, and our research shows that such short term loans really do not solve household financial issues. However, when people are desperate, they will tend to grasp at any straw in the wind, regardless of cost or consequences. We also find these households are within certain household segments, who tend to be less affluent, and less well educated.

The RBA minutes, release this week, did not tell us much more, but contained this morsel. “Members noted that housing loans as a share of banks’ domestic credit had increased markedly over the preceding two decades. APRA intended to publish a discussion paper later in 2017 addressing the concentration of banks’ exposures to housing.  Members also noted that APRA had intensified its focus on Australian banks strengthening their risk culture”.  We can barely contain our excitement at the prospect! A discussion paper later in the year!

CoreLogic’s latest auction clearance results showed there is still demand for property, with a preliminary clearance rate of 70.6 per cent, and increase from last week when the final clearance rate slipped to 64.4 per cent, the lowest clearance rate since January 2016.

Finally, we released our latest flagship report – The Property Imperative, Volume 9. This is available free on request from our web site and is a distillation of our research into the finance and property market, using data from our household surveys and other public data. Whilst we provide these weekly updates via our blog, twice a year we publish a full report. Volume 9 offers, in one place, a unique summary of the finance and property markets, from a household perspective, over more than 70 pages.

What really struck us as we wrote the report was the amount of change in the property and finance sector, with significant regulatory tightening, changes in mortgage pricing and a rotation in mortgage lending. But the underlying facts of high prices, mortgage stress and rising risks in the system appear unchanged. The number of reports highlighting the risks have risen substantially.

Standing back, sure the data is pulling to two directions, with employment higher, auction clearance rates firm and affordability for some manageable. But the bigger picture contains a number of risks, stemming from the divergence of incomes and home prices, the lose lending standards over the past few years, and the risks from the more recent tightening of the rules, at a time when interest rates are more likely to rise than fall. Without a significant rise in incomes in real terms – and we cannot see where this will come from – the risks to growth and financial stability are still not fully understood.

And that’s the Property Imperative to 21st October 2017. Follow this link to request the Volume 9 Property Imperative Report.

ABA dumps Sedgwick’s commissions guidelines

From Mortgage Professional Australia.

Banks will be free to take their own approaches to broker remuneration after the Australian Bankers Association abandoned a key part of the Sedgwick Review.

Originally the ABA set out for banks to collectively develop “guiding principles” for the way banks remuneration brokers and their own staff. However, the preparation, consultation and finalisation of guiding principles will no longer take place, according to an update on the ABA’s work by independent but ABA-commissioned reviewer Ian McPhee.

Each bank will instead develop its own approach to commission, a move receiving scathing criticism from McPhee: “In taking this decision to vary its implementation plan, the industry has forgone the opportunity to establish guiding principles and demonstrate strong leadership in this area which has traditionally had a high profile, by building on the momentum for change stimulated by the Sedgwick Review and ASIC’s review of mortgage broker remuneration.”

Banks have also dropped their original plan to work directly with legislators to change broker remuneration, McPhee reported. Instead, they will work with brokers within the Combined Industry Forum and “proceed without the need for regulatory or legislative intervention to achieve the outcome of improved payments and governance practices.”

Clearing the path for the Combined Industry Forum

McPhee’s finding that the ABA has effectively sidelined its own report represents a huge victory for brokers.

Sedgwick recommended ‘guiding principles’ which included decoupling remuneration from loan size and bringing broker governance in line with that of retail bank staff.

Furthermore, Sedgwick recommended banks implement these changes by 2020, putting banks on a completely different timeline to that adopted by brokers and the Government following ASIC’s separate remuneration review.

Now banks can develop their own principles for remuneration, they will be free to take pragmatic approaches to commissions which better meet brokers’ expectations. It also opens up the intriguing possibility that banks who are more reliant on brokers – such as the non-majors – could adopt more generous remuneration arrangements than those with larger direct channels.

The signs of division 

MPA reported earlier this week that the Sedgwick’s proposals could soon be buried by the banks.

The first signs of division emerged during the Treasury’s consultation process following ASIC’s Review, where different banks took very different views to those expressed by Sedgwick.

Westpac explicitly criticised the use of flat fees, noting: “a flat fee commission structure could prompt an increase in split banking as brokers seek to maximise income by submitting smaller deals.”

The final straw may have been the announcement that ANZ CEO Shayne Elliott would be the ABA’s next chairman. Elliott told the House of Representatives last week the commission changes were ‘complicated’ and needed more work: deputy CEO Graham Hodges added that “the devil’s in the detail because clearly, it’s going to affect thousands of brokers.”

Is positive credit reporting a flawed deal?

From Australian Broker.

The move towards more comprehensive credit reporting may be beneficial on the surface, but one legal expert has warned that it will have negative impacts on consumers and won’t solve a root issue in the reporting process.

While regulators and credit providers have been singing the praises of this expanded credit reporting regime, it won’t improve the number of inaccuracies in the data collected by credit reporting agencies, Joseph Trimarchi, solicitor at Joseph Trimarchi & Associates told Australian Broker.

“It’s not their fault,” he noted. “They are the custodians of the systems and the information they collect is the information fed to them by credit providers.”

What is lacking is a more precise method of recording this information, he said.

“What we find is that the level of inaccuracies that exist on credit files hasn’t diminished. Those mistakes are still there.”

This is a systematic issue caused by the way credit reporting has been structured since its inception in Australia. While the Privacy Act legislates credit reporting, it does not have an enforcement arm to ensure information is correct, Trimarchi said.

Around 70-80% of lenders are accurate in their listings, he added, with the remainder causing issues for consumers. These inaccuracies existed prior to comprehensive credit reporting and will exist afterwards, he said.

“The information which is collected and the information which appears on the credit file – be it the limited information that was on there prior to positive reporting or the expanded information which is now there – this needs to be correct, accurate and up-to-date.”

This inaccurate information will provide a skewed version of an individual’s credit history with every single credit agency in Australia, Trimarchi said.

“It’s not about the volume of information going in. It’s the accuracy of that information that needs to be looked at.”

The increased volume of information has another potential impact on consumers, he added, in that minor financial missteps will now be recorded.

“Even if a loan is in arrears for a few days, it still has capacity to be recorded on the credit file. It certainly does help the banks in determining creditworthiness but at the same time it will make it more difficult for a client who’s gone through a little bit of an upheaval in life … that puts them behind by two or three or four weeks before they catch up.”

How lenders will view these cases in future is yet to be determined, he said.

More On The Reduction In Home Ownership In Five Charts

The newly released Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report “Australia’s Welfare 2017“, is a distillation of data from various public sources, rather than offering new research.

However, the section on housing, reinforces the trends we have been highlighting in our recent posts.

Home ownership is still the most common tenure type in Australia, as it is in many other OECD countries. However, home ownership rates have tended to increase in many OECD countries over recent decades, unlike the Australian experience. Contributing to this trend overseas, at least in part, are changes in the characteristics of households (including population ageing, household structure, and income and education) and policy influences, such as mortgage market innovations (including the relaxation of deposit constraints, increasing home ownership rates among lower income households, and tax reliefs on mortgage debt financing).

Over the past 20 years, there has also been a major shift in home ownership trends across Australia. Nationally, the proportion of home owners without a mortgage has continued to fall, while the proportion of renters has increased.

The gap between household income and dwelling prices in Australia has widened over the past 3 decades, creating a barrier to home ownership for many. This gap has been fuelled by rapid house price growth, after the financial system was deregulated, with the total value of Australian housing estimated to be $6.5 trillion.

House prices in Australia have increased substantially in recent decades. The OECD noted in its biennial survey that they have reached unprecedented highs in Australia, increasing by 250% in real terms since the 1990s. The impact of higher house prices has been partially offset by lower mortgage interest rates, increased credit availability and changes in financial agency practices. These favourable lending conditions and low interest rates have encouraged buyers into the market, despite the growth in house prices themselves.

Research shows that Australia is experiencing generational change when it comes to home ownership, with younger households being principally affected by factors such as economic constraints, lifestyle choices and work–home preferences.

The steepest decline in home ownership rates across the 25 years to 2013–14 has been for people aged 25–34. This is typically the age at which first transitions into home ownership are made. But, fewer and fewer people in this age group are entering home ownership, with a 21 percentage point decline to just 39% in 2013–14 (compared with 60% in 1988–89). Home ownership rates for people aged 35–44 also fell, but not so much (12 percentage points). People aged over 65 (the age of retirement) were the only age group to increase their rate of home ownership and, even then, the increase was marginal.

Census data from 2016 became available just prior to the release of this publication and confirm this trend of diminishing home ownership rates among younger Australians. From 2006 to 2016 Census data reveal the greatest declines in home ownership have been in the 25–34 and 35–44 year age groups (from 51% down to 45% and from 68% to 62%, respectively).

In 2013, 71% of people born between 1957 and 1966 (mainly baby boomers), were financing a mortgage when aged 45–54. This trend is of particular concern as these households approach retirement without their home and asset base being paid off. For people looking to retire in the next 10 years, 45% of 55–64-year-olds in 2013 were still servicing a mortgage, compared with just 26% in 1982.

Debt agreements and how to avoid unnecessary debt traps

From The Conversation.

Debt agreements are the fastest growing form of personal insolvency in Australia. They were designed to offer debtors a low-cost way to make arrangements with their creditors, while avoiding bankruptcy and some of its more serious consequences.

When introduced, law reformers intended that debt agreements should be administered by volunteers rather than by commercial administrators who charge fees. However, in practice, debtors often pay substantial fees to debt agreement administrators.

In fact, many debtors pay more than 100% of their original debt, because of the high cost of administration fees. But there are cheaper options available for managing debt.

Debt agreements

Debt agreements are binding contracts made between debtors and their creditors in accordance with personal insolvency law. They are aimed at providing debtors in financial stress with the option of compromising with creditors. Not all debtors can enter into a debt agreement – there are income and debt limits.

In many cases, debtors pay their creditors an agreed reduced amount by instalments over a period of time. A debt agreement administrator assists in the negotiation process and distributes the payments to creditors.

Debt agreements have fewer adverse consequences than bankruptcy. One key advantage is that debtors may be allowed to keep their home.

Nonetheless, the adverse consequences of debt agreements include having a record on the National Personal Insolvency Index, and difficulties obtaining credit. Debtors’ ability to maintain a licence in various professions may be affected and the debt agreement must be disclosed in certain situations.

A growing problem in Australia

In 2016 there were 12,150 new debt agreements, comprising 41.5% of all personal insolvencies in Australia. While the number of debt agreements has increased steadily each year, bankruptcies have decreased since 2010.

Our research examines three sources of data to gauge the impact of debt agreements. These sources include statistics from the Australian Financial Security Authority (AFSA), an online survey of 400 debtors, and interviews with industry stakeholders.

Most debtors pay more under debt agreements than the amount they originally owed. This is due to the fees charged by AFSA and, in particular, for-profit debt agreement administrators.

In 2016, close to 23% of debtors’ payments went towards debt agreement administrators’ fees. The total amount of fees paid by debtors is higher when Australian Financial Security Agency fees and set-up fees paid to debt agreement administrators are included.

Many debt agreements are unsuitable

Debt agreements are useful for some people, such as those who have a home to protect from seizure in bankruptcy. However, consumer advocates find many instances of debt agreements unsuited to the needs of debtors. High administration fees are detrimental particularly for low income debtors.

Some debtors enter into debt agreements which they clearly cannot afford, aggravating their financial stress. If they are unable to make the payments required under a debt agreement and it is terminated, the fees cannot be recovered but the debts to creditors remain, leaving debtors in a worse position.

Debtors who rely primarily on Centrelink benefits are among the clearest examples of people unsuited to debt agreements. Centrelink benefits are meant to provide a basic standard of living, and diverting a portion of income towards debt agreements is likely to cause significant hardship.

People whose incomes comprise a disability or aged pension may in many cases be better off declaring bankruptcy, or seeking other forms of debt relief.

Better options available

There are several fee-free options for managing debt which do not involve the adverse consequences of debt agreements.

Financial hardship schemes commonly allow payment by instalments, or short term extensions of time, for debts owed to utilities or credit providers. Free independent dispute resolution offered by the Financial Ombudsman Service and the Credit and Investments Ombudsman is available to people who have disputes with financial service providers.

People often enter into debt agreements without seeking independent advice or accessing other options for managing debt. In 2016, 92% of debt agreement debtors relied on debt administrators as their primary source of information. Marketing often emphasises the advantages of debt agreements over bankruptcy.

Debtors often lack adequate knowledge of cheaper, better options for managing debt and of the adverse consequences of debt agreements. When the debt agreement system was established, it was not expected that private, profit-making debt administrators would assume a prominent role.

Law reformers noted in the 1996 Bankruptcy Legislation Amendment Bill that ‘if fees were charged, debt agreements would in many cases not be viable either for the debtor, or for his or her creditors’. They further noted that this would defeat the purpose for which debt agreements were introduced.

Recommendations

Reforms to the debt agreement system are currently being considered, but in order to be effective, these reforms should provide better safeguards for debtors. These should include stricter eligibility requirements for debtors entering into debt agreements such as a minimum income or ownership of assets which are protected from seizure in bankruptcy.

We need a more rigorous, legally binding assessment of debtors’ suitability on the part of debt agreement administrators; the provision of clearer information to debtors; and limits on administrators’ fees. Debtors should have access to free dispute resolution services when problems with debt agreement administrators arise.

Such reforms would reduce the risk of debtors being left worse off, financially, as a result of debt agreements that are unsuited to their circumstances.

Authors: Vivien Chen, Lecturer, Monash Business School, Monash University; Ian Ramsay, Professor, Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne; Lucinda O’Brien, Research Fellow, University of Melbourne

Senior property investors can’t ‘sit on their hands’

From Nestegg.

The Citi report argued that the growing number of multi-property investors and falling yields were a worrying sign for senior investors who may have little time left in their working life to repay their debts. The report was compiled using Citi figures and data from Digital Finance Analytics (DFA).

“Tighter application of responsible lending laws mean that investors must now have a clear debt repayment plan, although for many prevailing interest-only (IO) borrowers this does not exist,” said the Citi analysts lead by Craig Williams and Brendan Sproules.

“The large level of debt outstanding by borrowers aged in their 50s and 60s means many investors will need to sell property to discharge their debts.”

They warned that as 28 per cent of wealthy senior investors were not asked about a capital repayment plan upon loan application and 32 per cent of them do not have a capital repayment plan, “as these cohorts begin to hit retirement age, their investment properties will need to be sold to repay the debt”.

According to Citi, mortgage debt is “one of the most important economic and social issues of our time”, due to the risk that highly indebted households pose to the economy.

Citi and DFA’s figures reported that ~35 per cent of mortgages are held by investors, ~40 per cent of mortgages are interest-only and the percentage of investors holding IO loans has grown to ~70 per cent.

Considering this, Citi said most wealthy seniors (53 per cent) preferred the repayment structure because it helped them get a bigger loan. For most stressed seniors (72 per cent), IO loans appealed because of the ability to make smaller repayments.

Multi-property investors growing

Additionally, the proportion of wealth seniors who own multiple investment properties has grown in the years since 2011.

In 2011, 22 per cent of wealthy senior investors own two or three properties, 72 per cent owned one, and just 1 per cent owned six or seven.

Conversely, in 2017, 18 per cent of this group owned six or seven properties, 7 per cent owned two or three, and 73 per cent owned one investment property.

Across all cohorts, the percentage of multi-property investors has grown and this has been “coinciding with the considerable rise in IO mortgages”.

At the same time, however, the gross rental yield in Sydney has fallen from 4.3 per cent in May 2013 to 2.80 per cent in May 2017 and the average standard variable rate for IO loans at the major banks has grown from 6.17 per cent to 6.26 per cent.

Marking these cash flow and investment fundamentals as “deteriorated”, Citi said: “Looking forward, investors are losing the ability to ride out the cycle.

“The most important question for the future direction of house prices is – What will these multi-investment property borrowers do when faced with increasing cash flow losses and flat or declining property prices?”

Given that the average age of wealthy seniors is 63 and the average IO debt is $236,400, according to their figures, Citi expressed concern that this cohort will not have enough time to repay the principal “without a significant hit to household cash flows”.

Further, this group could be additionally affected by the needs of the adult children they might have. Citi pointed to research showing that the ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’ can now be considered Australia’s fifth largest home loan lender.

The RBA backs them up

The Citi analysts are not alone in their concerns. The Reserve Bank of Australia recently flagged the “potential risk” in the growing number of property investors over the age of 60 with mortgage debt. The “significant increase” in the share of geared investors was considered particularly alarming.

The RBA conceded, however: “While this seemingly could increase risks, there are some mitigating factors.

“Although this age group is more indebted, the average retirement age has increased over time, so older investors are more likely to be working, increasing their capacity to withstand shortfalls in rental income or higher interest rates.”

Westpac to refund some package customers, costs $65m

Westpac has announced it would provide refunds to some customers holding ‘packaged’ accounts after identifying that some customers did not automatically receive benefits to which they were entitled.

 

The issue affected approximately 200,000 customers who held Premier Advantage Packages with Westpac or Advantage Packages with St. George, BankSA, or Bank of Melbourne from 2010.

Under the terms of the packages, customers were entitled to a range of benefits. Customers automatically received discounts on core products such as home loans, credit cards, or transaction accounts. However, some customers did not receive discounts on ancillary products such as home and contents insurance and term deposits. The packages have since been simplified and all benefits are now automated.

Westpac Chief Executive, Consumer Bank, George Frazis, said: “At Westpac, our business depends on building long term relationships with our customers. So when we get something wrong, we want our customers to have confidence that we will put it right.

“When we identified these issues we started the process of putting things right for customers. We also notified ASIC.

“Importantly, customers do not need to do anything. Over the coming months, we will provide refunds, including appropriate interest, to any customers who may have been entitled to a benefit but weren’t aware they needed to opt in.

“Westpac apologises unreservedly for a process that did not suit customers. By automating the discounts, we have ensured that our customers will not be affected in this way again.”

Mr Frazis said that some customers with various business banking packages may also not have received some of the benefits they were entitled to. Affected customers will also receive refunds.

Refunds are expected to total approximately $65 million with an after tax cost to Westpac of around $45 million, which will be included in Westpac Group’s FY17 financial results.

Westpac will proactively contact eligible customers, but has set up a dedicated webpage to assist with any questions. Business customers can also contact their relationship banker directly.

Canada Reinforces Mortgage Underwriting Guidelines

From Moody’s.

On Tuesday, Canada’s Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI) published the final version of “Guideline B-20 − Residential Mortgage Underwriting Practices and Procedures,” which mandates more stringent stress-testing for uninsured mortgages. The guideline, which takes effect on 1 January 2018 and applies to all federally regulated financial institutions in the country, is credit positive because it will improve asset quality for Canadian banks.

The guideline sets a new minimum qualifying rate, or stress test, for uninsured mortgages at the higher of the five-year benchmark rate published by the Bank of Canada, the central bank, or the contractual mortgage rate plus 2%. Lenders also will be required to impose and continuously update more effective loan-to-value (LTV) limits and measurements.

A key vulnerability of Canadian banks is the high and rising level of private-sector debt/GDP. Canadian mortgage debt outstanding has more than doubled in the past 10 years (see Exhibit 1) and the index of house prices to disposable income has increased 25% over this period (see Exhibit 2), raising the prospect that real estate overvaluation is driving up overall household debt and overextending borrowers.

OFSI’s action is the latest in a series of macro-prudential measures aimed at slowing house-price appreciation in Canada and moderating the availability of mortgage financing. These measures will address the increasing risk that that growing private-sector debt will weaken Canadian banks’ asset quality. Canada’s growing consumer debt and elevated housing prices threaten to make consumers and Canadian banks more vulnerable to downside risks.

In addition to requiring that all uninsured mortgages be stress-tested against a potential rise in interest rates (high-ratio insured mortgages are already required to meet such tests to qualify for mandatory mortgage insurance), the guideline requires that banks establish and adhere to risk-appropriate LTV limits that keep current with market trends. Additionally, the guideline expressly prohibits banks from arranging with another lender a mortgage, or a combination of a mortgage and other lending products (known as bundled mortgages), in any form that circumvents a bank’s maximum LTV ratio.

Housing prices are at record highs owing to price increases in the urban areas of Toronto, Ontario, and Vancouver, British Columbia. Macro-prudential initiatives dampened volumes and prices in Toronto over the summer, but the effects of similar moves in Vancouver last year appear to be lessening this year as prices regain momentum. We believe that high consumer leverage could result in future asset-quality deterioration in an economic downturn or a housing price correction. Although Canadian banks have demonstrated prudent underwriting standards in the past, this is attributable in part to thoughtful regulatory oversight.

The new guideline follows a consultation period that ended in August. Some industry participants recommended a delay in implementation, cautioning that the combined effect of multiple macro-prudential measures affecting the mortgage market risked unduly depressing the housing market, thereby triggering a severe price correction.