Household Finance Confidence Continues To Fall

Digital Finance Analytics has released the July results from our Household Finance Confidence Index, which shows a further fall, with momentum decaying.

The average score was 99.3, down from 99.8 last month and below the neutral setting. However, the average score masks significant differences across the dimensions of the survey results. For example, younger households are considerably more negative, compared with older groups.

This is strongly linked with property owning status, with those renting well below the neutral setting (and more younger households rent these days), whilst owner occupied home owners are significantly more positive. We also see a fall in the confidence of property investors, relative to owner occupied owners.

Across the states,  we see a small decline in confidence in NSW from a strong starting point, whilst VIC households were more confident in July.

The driver scorecard shows little change in job security expectations, but lower interest rates on deposits continue to hit savings. Households are more concerned about the level of debt held, as interest rate rises bite home. The impact of flat or falling incomes registers strongly, with more households saying, in real terms they are worse off. Costs of living are rising fast, with the changes in energy prices, child care costs and council rates all hitting hard. That said, the continued rises in home prices, especially in the eastern states meant that net worth for households in these states rose again, which was not the case in WA, NT or SA.

Sentiment in the property sector is clearly a major influence on how households are feeling about their finances, but the real dampening force is falling real incomes and rising costs. As a result, we still expect to see the index fall further as we move into spring, as more price hikes come through. In addition, the raft of investor mortgage rate repricing will hit, whilst rental returns remain muted.

By way of background, these results are derived from our household surveys, averaged across Australia. We have 52,000 households in our sample at any one time. We include detailed questions covering various aspects of a household’s financial footprint. The index measures how households are feeling about their financial health. To calculate the index we ask questions which cover a number of different dimensions. We start by asking households how confident they are feeling about their job security, whether their real income has risen or fallen in the past year, their view on their costs of living over the same period, whether they have increased their loans and other outstanding debts including credit cards and whether they are saving more than last year. Finally we ask about their overall change in net worth over the past 12 months – by net worth we mean net assets less outstanding debts.


Rental Stress, The Hidden Problem

There is much discussion of mortgage stress, some of which we highlight by our ongoing research into the growing numbers of households under financial pressure. The results for July will be out soon.

But rental stress is less discussed, but in our mind is equally significant, so today we explore some of the data in our Core Market Model to July 17. In fact there are more households in rental stress than in mortgage stress according to our analysis. We know their financial confidence on average is lower.

First, we need to define rental stress. Whilst some will use a “30% of income to pay the rent” as a benchmark, we do not think it is an adequate measure – not least because we see large numbers of households renting where more than 30% of income is paid away on rent, yet they are not in financial difficulty. Others pay less away, but are in stress. 30% is too arbitrary!

So we look at net cash flow. If households, once they pay their rent, tax and other outgoings have close to nothing left, or a small deficit, at the end of the month, they fall into our mild stressed category. Those with a severe cash deficit at the end of the month, are in serve stress.

We start by looking at the causes of rental stress. Using data from our surveys, we find that costs of living, under employment and flat incomes are the main causes of rental stress.

Those renting tend to hold less financial assets, so are more exposed, especially where they are also responsible for bills (electricity, council rates etc). Those in difficulty will be more likely to hold multiple credit cards, and also access short term loans to get by. Those in the stressed categories will be less likely to spend at the shops, and so are a brake on economic activity.  One strategy some use is to move to cheaper rented accommodation, with poorer facilities to reduce outgoings. The migratory nature of renters, especially those in stress are not well understood. The current tenancy regulations in Australia are pretty weak. Much of this movement is not reported, nor recorded.

So, lets look at some of the numbers, remembering one third of households are renting, in round numbers that is 3 million households.

Looking by state, more than half of renters in NSW are in rental stress (on our definition), and the highest proportion of any state here are in severe rental stress. The proportion of households in stress fades away as we look across the other states and territories. But the three most populous states have the highest rental stress levels.

Looking across our segments, we see that older households are more under stress, and a significant proportion in severe stress.  Whilst wealthy seniors may hold some savings, stressed seniors do not. Many are reliant on Government support.

Looking across the geographic zones (a series of concentric rings around our main urban hubs) we see significant levels of stress in the urban centres, as well as on the urban fringe. The former is being created by high rents – especially in the newly constructed high-rise blocks being thrown up across the eastern states, often occupied by young affluent households; whilst in the urban fringe, it is more about depressed incomes. We see stress rolling out into the regions, but is less apparent in the more rural and remote areas.

Finally, here is list of the regions across the country. Greater Sydney and the Central Coast have the highest representation of stressed renters as a proportion of all households renting.

All this highlights the issues we have due to the combination of flat incomes, and rising costs. It is also the obverse of the picture we revealed yesterday, where we showed rental growth is very low (causing more investors to have a net cash-flow problem).

Once again we see the outworking of poor public policy over a generation. With an internationally high proportion of property investors and a high proportion of people who are likely to never own their own property, rental stress provides another important perspective of the issues we face.

We have very granular data, down to post code, but that will get too detailed for this post.



Property Demand, Rotating, Not Falling

The latest results from the Digital Finance Analytics Household Surveys, show that whilst there are segmental movements in play, overall demand for property remains intact, despite rising mortgage interest rates and concerns about stalling income growth.

Results from the latest 52,000 survey show that first time buyers are being encouraged by the more generous first home owner grants on offer in several states. On the other hand, the relative benefit of home purchase relative to renting has reduced.

The biggest changes in the barriers first time buyers are experiencing relate to the availability of finance, whilst concerns about future interest rate rises, and rising costs of living reduced a little compared with our May results. Overall first time buyer demand is up.

Turning to property investors, the barriers to purchase are changing with a rise in those concerned about rising mortgage interest rates and availability of finance.

The reasons to transact have shifted, with a significant rise in those saying they were driven by tax benefits (both negative gearing and capital gains) whilst there was a fall in those looking to appreciating property prices and low finance rates. Overall, investor demand is down a bit.

Another important group are those refinancing. After a strong swing in 2016 to get a better loan rate, there has been a rise in those seeking to reduce their monthly repayments.

So plotting the change of transaction intention over the next 12 months, we see a significant fall in both portfolio and solo property investors, but a rise in first time buyer purchasers expecting to transact.

Finally, we see that in relative terms there is a fall in the proportion of property investors expecting to see home prices rising in the next 12 months, whilst first time buyers are a little more positive, and there has been little change in expectation across our other segments.

Putting all this together, we think demand for finance, and for property will remain quite strong, and on this read, it is unlikely home prices will fall much at all in the major eastern state markets. Other states are more at risk of a fall, which once again underscores the diversity in the market across Australia.  As a result lenders will still be able to write more business, though the mix is changing.


Household Financial Confidence Waned In May

The results from the latest Digital Finance Analytics Household Finance Confidence Index to end May 2017 is released today, and shows a lower overall score of 100.6, down from 101.5 last month. This is firmly in the neutral zone, but households with mortgages are feeling the pinch and the index is set to go lower in months ahead.

Both property investors and owner occupiers are more concerned about rising mortgage interest rates, and potentially falling property prices. There was less change in households who are property inactive, which shows how the dynamics of property is directly influencing confidence, but this group has a lower level of confidence to start with.

The biggest slide was in NSW, where the overall score is still the highest across the states, but is turning lower. Talk of lower prices, is hitting confidence. WA confidence is rising a little, but from a low baseline and there were small rises in QLD and SA.

Looking at the scorecard which drives the index, we see households have become a little more concerned about future job prospects, are less comfortable with savings returns, but significantly more concerned about the debt burden they are carrying in the context of falling real incomes, whilst costs of living continue to spiral higher. This despite net worth still rising for many.

Sentiment in the property sector is clearly a major influence on how households are felling about their finances, but the real dampening force is falling real incomes. This is unlikely to correct any time soon, so we expect continued weakness in the index as we go into winter.

By way of background, these results are derived from our household surveys, averaged across Australia. We have 52,000 households in our sample at any one time. We include detailed questions covering various aspects of a household’s financial footprint. The index measures how households are feeling about their financial health. To calculate the index we ask questions which cover a number of different dimensions. We start by asking households how confident they are feeling about their job security, whether their real income has risen or fallen in the past year, their view on their costs of living over the same period, whether they have increased their loans and other outstanding debts including credit cards and whether they are saving more than last year. Finally we ask about their overall change in net worth over the past 12 months – by net worth we mean net assets less outstanding debts.

Digital Finance Analytics – Quenching The Thirst For Accurate Household Mortgage Data

Digital Finance Analytics Core Market Model is now being used by a growing number of financial services companies and agencies who want to understand the true dynamics of the current mortgage market and the broader footprint of household finances across Australia.

The DFA Approach

By combining our household survey data, with private data from industry participants as well as public data from government agencies we have created a unique statistically optimised 52,000 household x 140 field resource which portrays the current status of households and their financial footprint. Because new data is added to each week, it is the most current information available. We also estimate the extent of future mortgage defaults, thanks to the data on household mortgage stress.

Posts on the DFA blog uses data from this resource.  Momentum in our business has picked up significantly as concerns about the state of household finances grow and the thirst for knoweldge grows. We plug some of the critical gaps in the currently available public data which is in our view both limited and myopic.

A Soft Sell

The complete data-set is available purchase, either as a one-off transaction, or by way of an annual subscription which includes the full current data plus eleven subsequent monthly updates.

Other clients prefer to request custom queries which we execute on a time and materials basis.

In this video you can see an example of the core model at work. We show how data can be manipulated to get a granular (post code and segment) understanding of the state of play.  This is important when the situation is so variable across the states, and across different household groups.

We Hold Granular Data

  • Household Demographics (including age, education, structure, occupation and income, location, etc.)
  • Household Property Footprint (including residential status, type of property, current value of property, whether holding investment property, purchase intentions, etc.)
  • Household Finances (including outstanding mortgages and other loans, credit cards, transaction turnover, deposits, superannuation and SMSF, and other household spending)
  • Household Risk Assessment (including loan-to-value, debt servicing ratio, loan-to-income ratio, level of mortgage stress, probability of default, etc.)
  • Household Channel Preferences (including preferred channel, time on line, use of financial adviser, use of mortgage broker, etc.)
  • Segmentation (derived from our algorithms; for household, property, digital and others)

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A Quick Recap For Those Who Missed Them

We had a technical issue with the DFA Blog this morning, thanks to a faulty WordPress update. As a result our recent posts were not syndicated through the normal channels. Having fixed the problem, here is a quick summary of what you may have missed.

Majority of brokers expect more out-of-cycle rate hikes

A recent survey has revealed that 85 per cent of brokers believe there are more out-of-cycle rate hikes in the pipeline, which will create challenges for existing mortgage holders.

APRA Looking At Capital Ratios For Mortgages Wayne Byres speech “Fortis Fortuna Adiuvat: Fortune Favours the strong”, as Chairman of APRA, at the AFR Banking & Wealth Summit, makes two significant points.

First, there are elevated risks in the residential lending sector (even after the recent tactical announcements on interest only loans). Banks remain  highly leveraged businesses.

Second, despite the delays from Basel, APRA will consult this year on potential changes to the capital ratios, reflecting the Australian Banks’ focus on mortgage lending and the need to be “unquestionably strong”.

CUA will temporarily pause accepting investor lending applications

Credit Union Australia (CUA) has said it will temporarily pause accepting investor lending applications until further notice, including applicants refinancing from other financial institutions.

Property And Household Financial Footprints

Data from the Digital Finance Analytics Core Market Model tells an interesting story when we look at households dependence on wealth from property.

To illustrate the point, here are three charts, looking at different household groups.

We believe normal service has now resumed.


Mortgage Stress Rises Again

The latest results from the Digital Finance Analytics mortgage stress modelling, released today, reveals another rise in the number of households experiencing mortgage stress.

Martin North, Principal of Digital Finance Analytics said “of the 3.1 million mortgaged households, latest results from the DFA surveys of 52,000 households reveals an estimated 669,000 are now experiencing mortgage stress. This is a 1.5% rise from the previous month and maintains the trends we have observed in the past 12 months. The rise can be traced to continued static incomes, rising costs of living, and more underemployment; whilst mortgage interest rates have risen thanks to out-of-cycle adjustments by the banks and bigger mortgages thanks to rising home prices. With the latest housing debt to income ratio at a record 188.7*, households will remain under pressure”.

Within the 669,000 households, which represents 21.8% of borrowing households, 20.8% are in mild stress, meaning they are managing to make their mortgage repayments by cutting back on other expenditure, putting more on credit cards and generally hunkering down. However, the remaining 1% of households are in severe stress, meaning they are behind with their repayments, are trying to refinance, or sell their property or seeking hardship assistance.  Households are “stressed” when income does not cover ongoing costs, rather than identifying a set proportion of income, (such as 30%) going on the mortgage.

Regional analysis showed that 193,000 households are from NSW, 175,000 from VIC, 122,000 from QLD and 85,000 from WA.  However, the largest relative proportion of households in stress are found in the smaller states of SA and TAS, where the impact of sustained low wage growth and underemployment is strongly felt.

Looking ahead, the probability of 30-day mortgage default has also risen to 1.64%, with the highest risks residing in WA where it is more than 3% in the mining belts.  “We expect mortgage stress rates to climb through 2017 as mortgage rate rise, whilst slow wage growth, and underemployment will continue to bite” concluded Martin North.

Detailed analysis shows mortgage stress continues to touch some more affluent households, who are highly leveraged, as well as the more traditional “battler” groups in the urban fringe. Younger families and recent first time buyers are under the most pressure.

*RBA E2 Household Finances – Selected Ratios Dec 2016

The Rule of Thirds

On average, according to our surveys, one third of households are living in rented accommodation, one third own their property outright, and one third have a mortgage. Actually the trend in recent years has been to take a mortgage later and hold it longer, and given the current insipid income growth trends this will continue to be the case. Essentially, more households than ever are confined to rental property, and more who do own a property will have a larger mortgage for longer.

Now, if we overlay age bands, we see that “peak mortgage” is around 40% from late 30’s onward, until it declines in later age groups. The dotted line is the rental segment, which attracts high numbers of younger households, and then remains relatively static.

But the mix varies though the age bands, and across locations. For example, in the CBD of our major cities, most people rent. Those who do own property will have a mortgage for longer and later in life.

Compare this with households on the urban fringe. Here more are mortgaged, earlier, less renting, and mortgage free ownership is higher in later life.

Different occupations have rather different profile. For example those employed in business and finance reach a peak mortgage 35-39 years, and then it falls away (thanks to relatively large incomes).

Compare this with those working in construction and maintenance.

Finally, across the states, the profiles vary. In the ACT more households get a mortgage between 30-34, thanks to predictable public sector wages.

Renting is much more likely for households in NT.

WA has a high penetration of mortgages among younger households (reflecting the demography there).

Most of the other states follow the trend in NSW, with the rule of thirds clearly visible.

Victoria, for example, has a higher penetration of mortgages, and smaller proportions of those renting.

We find these trends important, because it highlights local variations, as well as the tendency for mortgages to persist further in the journey to retirement. This explains why, as we highlighted yesterday, some older households still have a high loan to income ratio as they approach retirement. To underscore this, here is average mortgage outstanding by age bands.


New Report On Mortgage Industry With JP Morgan Released

The report, released today highlights that property investors will be hit hard as banks re-price their mortgages.

Volume 24 of the mortgage report, a collaboration between J.P. Morgan and Digital Finance Analytics (DFA), explores how to practically define the term ‘materially dependent on property cash flows’ and looks to translate that into potential incremental capital requirements for the Australian major banks. The report also considers different re-pricing strategies and competitive dynamics, particularly around the issue of dynamic Loan-to-Value Ratios (LVR).

Significant changes are afoot for investor loans defined as being ‘materially dependent on property cash flows’ to repay the loan. Amidst the transition to Basel 4, these mortgages will see the most extreme effects on their capital intensity and pricing – with capital levels somewhere between 3x and 5x current requirements, which could have a significant impact on pricing of investor loans down the track.

The report draws heavily on modelling completed by Digital Finance Analytics from our household surveys, as presented in the recently published The Property Imperative 8, available here. Our survey is based on a rolling sample of 52,000 households and is the largest currently available. It includes data to end February 2017.

“The dispersion of impacts across the portfolio highlights the fact that assessing the mortgage by Probability of Default band or LVR band isn’t necessarily ‘good enough’. Although banks may have access to significant pools of data, the new regulatory regime is forcing them to become ever-more granular in their analysis – top-down portfolio analytics just won’t cut it anymore,” said Martin North, principal, DFA.

“Rather than managing the portfolio with ‘macro-prudential’ drivers, banks need to move to the other end of the analysis spectrum and become ‘micro-prudential’,” Mr North concluded.

Unfortunately because of compliance issues, the JPM report itself is only available direct from them, and not via DFA.

DFA is not authorized nor regulated by ASIC and as such is not providing investment advice. DFA contributors are not research analysts and are neither ASIC nor FINRA regulated. DFA contributors have only contributed their analytic and modeling expertise and insights. DFA has not authored any part of this report.

This Week The Investor Intention Indicator Is Down Again

We just got the results back from this week’s household surveys, and yes, we went straight to the investor intention to transact series. It is down again, now for the fourth straight week, and continues the trend we reported last week. Whilst “a swallow does not make a summer”, it could be a leading indicator of trouble ahead.

If the data is correct, the current home sales momentum is likely to slow in coming months.