Not in their interest: The home loan borrowers that have been left out to dry

From The SMH.

There is a hidden and worrying risk lurking for a particular set of mortgage borrowers, whose level of financial stress is about to get a whole lot worse.

It’s those home owners with interest-only loans that are now increasingly under the pump – with National Australia Bank the latest of the big four to announce big hikes in rates on these types of loans.

While banks, the media and the government regularly characterise those that have interest-only loans as wealthy property investors, the fact is that there are many owner-occupiers that have used this method to finance the family home.

Ironically, regulators have pushed the banks to reduce interest-only lending to improve the overall risk of consumers’ debt to the financial system. But for those investors with interest-only loans, the chances of being unable to service them creates a new and unintended risk.

These hikes have not attracted the ire of the government, which has put the banks on notice that any move to increase mortgage rates will be intensely scrutinised. Again, because it is not seen as hitting the political heartland of the average voter with a mortgage to finance their own home.

But these borrowers are particularly vulnerable because many of them took out their interest-only loans because they didn’t have enough cash flow to repay interest and principal.

The banks have been under regulatory pressure to herd these interest-only borrowers into interest and principal loans – offering little or no fees to change over to principals, and interest rates that are now around 0.6 per cent lower.

The catch though is that monthly repayments will be higher in most cases because the borrower also needs to repay principal.

Those that can afford to switch will do so, but there will be many that will need to remain on interest-only and have to wear the rate increase.

For owner-occupiers who have an interest and principal loan, interest rates have not fallen by much in this latest round of adjustments.

National Australia Bank and Westpac customers will see their rate fall by 0.08 per cent while ANZ customers will benefit to the tune of 0.05 per cent.

It is better than nothing, but won’t have a really meaningful impact to the weekly household budget.

For banks, the positive effect of the far bigger increases on interest-only loans will significantly outweigh the negative impact of the small fall in rates on interest and principal loans.

Indeed Westpac – which has a higher proportion of interest-only loans than the others – could boost its earnings by 3.5 per cent, according to research from Macquarie. This is calculated on the basis of all other things being equal.

But Macquarie takes the view that this earnings benefit will be eroded to some degree by some customers switching to interest and principal loans – the caveat being if they can afford it.

Martin North from industry consultant Digital Finance Analytics believes that some investor/borrowers that have interest-only loans would have less incentive to switch because the tax effectiveness of this type of borrowing could be negatively affected.

Young families, investors most at risk

The bottom line is that regardless of the kind of borrower, the overall effect of this latest round of interest rate resets will be to improve bank earnings, because in aggregate borrowers will pay more.

North said the two segments most at risk for mortgage stress are younger families that are more typically first home owners that pushed their finances to get into the property market over the past couple of years and at the other end of the spectrum a more affluent group that took advantage of the rising property market and low interest rates to buy one or more investment properties.

Both North and analysts at Macquarie warn that the flow-on effects from increased rate rises even on just interest -only loans, and the potential for some to switch to interest and principal, could be damaging for the wider economy.

“The increase to IO (interest-only) loans combined with the increased likelihood of customers switching to P&I (principal and interest), in our view, will ultimately lead to further reductions in disposable incomes and put even greater pressure on highly indebted households. We estimate that a 50 basis point increase in interest rates has a 4 to 10 per cent impact on disposable income of highly indebted households.

“While it would rationally make sense for many households (particularly for owner-occupiers) to switch to P&I, …. many of these households would not have capacity to do this,’ Macquarie said in a note to clients this week.

‘Deadly combination’

In analysing the reasons for an increased level of stressed households, North noted that “the main drivers are rising mortgage rates and living costs whilst real incomes continue to fall and underemployment is on the rise. This is a deadly combination and is touching households across the country, not just in the mortgage belts.’

Against this, the incentive for banks to massage rates higher is greater than ever, given they have been hit by the Federal Government’s bank levy and this week by an additional tax from the South Australian government that many fear could be adopted by other states down the track.

On the other side of the household ledger, the lack of any real growth in wages is only exacerbating the squeeze.

A report from Cit this week that analyses the industry segments in which jobs are growing provides insight into the problem.

“Not only does Australia have an underemployment problem that has been highlighted by the monthly labour force series, but the quarterly data shows that the economy is creating mostly jobs that are below average in terms of earnings,” it said.

NAB hikes rates for IO loans

The rush to hike interest only loans continues, with NAB announcing changes which mirror the other majors. A small reduction in OO P&I loans but a big hike for IO loans for both OO and investors. Net impact will be further margin repair. No link with the bank levy they say.

From Australian Broker.

NAB has today announced changes to its variable home loan interest rates, effective Friday 30 June 2017.

The following three changes have been announced:

  • The interest rate for owner occupiers making principal and interest repayments will decrease by 0.08% per annum, to 5.24% per annum
  • The interest rate for owner occupiers making interest only repayments will increase by 0.35% per annum, to 5.77% per annum
  • The interest rate for residential investors making interest only repayments will increase by 0.35% per annum, to 6.25% per annum

NAB Chief Operating Officer, Antony Cahill, said the reduction to NAB’s Standard Variable Rate will benefit around 80 per cent of NAB’s owner occupier home loan customers.

“The 0.08% per annum decrease will see owner occupier customers making principal and interest repayments save $14 each month, or $168 each year, and help them to pay off their home loan sooner,” Cahill said.

“We need to comply with our regulatory requirements, including APRA’s 30% limit on new interest only lending for residential mortgages, while balancing the needs of customers across our entire portfolio and continuing to provide competitive rates.”

Cahill acknowledged the impact these changes will have on home loan customers making variable interest only repayments. Borrowers will not incur a fee to switch their repayments to principal and interest; customers are encouraged to discuss variations to their home loan with their banker or broker.

NAB continues to offer first home buyers a special 3.69% per annum, fixed for two years.

“We’re pleased to continue to help Australians, particularly young Australians, wanting to enter the property market to achieve their home ownership dreams,” Cahill said.

From Friday 30 June 2017, NAB’s advertised variable rates will be as follows:

Current advertised rates Advertised rate (Friday 30 June 2017)
Owner Occupier P&I 5.32% p.a. 5.24% p.a.
Investor P&I 5.80% p.a. 5.80% p.a.
Owner Occupier IO 5.42% p.a. 5.77% p.a.
Investor IO 5.90% p.a. 6.25% p.a.

NAB has said the changes announced today are unrelated to the Federal Government’s Major Bank Levy.

 

 

SA To Tax Banks Too

The SA budget today contained a surprise. They plan to charge a 0.015 per cent levy on the major banks bank bonds and deposits over $250,000 but will exclude mortgages and ordinary household deposits.

The tax to be introduced 1 July is expected to raise $370 million over four years.

At  it represents SA’s estimated share of bank liabilities subject to the Commonwealth’s quarterly levy, and the state treasurer cited the profitability of the banking sector and suggested that they have not been doing right by their customers.

So now the risk will be other states following suite. The banks are an easy target, profitable and unpopular; but we need to be aware of the unintended consequences of this move. Once again it is likely the costs will be passed on the bank customers, as the tax will lift the banks treasury costs, so this becomes an further indirect tax on consumers, just rather well hidden. And “convenient”.

The ABA responded:

Sydney, 22 June 2017: A new proposed tax on five Australian banks by the South Australian Government is an outrageous cash grab without policy substance, the Australian Bankers’ Association Chief Executive Anna Bligh said today.

“States are not responsible for banking policy. There is absolutely no policy reason for this announcement, other than a need for the South Australian Government to raise revenue in a desperate political move,” Ms Bligh said.

“Let me be clear – it is not the job of banks to prop up government budget shortfalls.

“South Australia is a state that needs economic confidence – at 6.9 per cent it has the highest unemployment rate nationally. Today’s announcement is the worst possible signal to the business community in South Australia and will make South Australia less competitive, potentially driving jobs to other states,” she said.

“This announcement is staggering for a group of Australian banks that are already among the highest corporate tax payers.

“These are banks that provide jobs for South Australians, lend to South Australian businesses and help South Australians into their homes.

“Tax policy in Australia is now becoming a joke at the whim of political opportunism and South Australia is trying to impose triple dipping for bank taxation,” Ms Bligh said.

“The banks impacted by this proposal pay full corporate tax, the Federal Government has just passed a new bank tax and now the South Australian Government is trying to impose a third state tax.

“The impacted banks call on every Australian Premier and First Minister to rule out a similar tax.

“Furthermore, when the GST was introduced, a range of state taxes were eliminated, including some state taxes relating to financial institutions. Today’s announcement is a step back in time.”

ANZ said:

ANZ Chief Executive Officer Shayne Elliott today responded to the South Australian Government’s announcement of a new state-based bank tax.

Mr Elliott said: “This deeply concerning tax will likely impact business investment in South Australia at a time when its economy is struggling with low growth, low business confidence and high unemployment.

“All businesses will rightly question the political risk associated with investing in a State with a Government prepared to unfairly target an industry that has played a significant role in supporting its lagging economy.

“South Australia does not need another drag on its economy after the repeated power failures over the last few years. Given its issues they would be wise to be more welcoming of both investment and capital,” Mr Elliott said.

“The comments attributed to the State Treasurer show a clear lack of understanding of the role banking plays in supporting the South Australian economy and the damage that opportunistic and ill-considered cash grabs will have on the long term economic prospects of the State,” Mr Elliott concluded.

NAB said:

Today’s announcement by the SA Government is poor policy without logic.

The role of the Australian banks is to support customers and communities and drive economic growth and activity. It is not to be a blank cheque so governments can cover their own budget shortfalls.

South Australians want their state to be more attractive to investment that will enable it to transition its economy and create new opportunities and jobs – this tax will do the opposite.

 

 

Scott Morrison is cracking down on credit cards

From Business Insider.

Australians have around $52 billion in debt outstanding on credit cards and the federal government is going after this lucrative part of the banking sector with four tough new measures in a crackdown on card debt.

Treasurer Scott Morrison has announced plans to change the way eligibility for a credit card is assessed, shifting it from the ability to pay the minimum repayment to being able “to repay the credit limit within a reasonable period”.

Before the end of the year, Morrison has pledged to pass legislation banning unsolicited offers of credit limit increases. The ban follows on from changes in 2011 which stopped card issuers offering written offers to increase credit limits unless the customer had already given consent. Banks switched to verbal offers as a way around the laws.

The remaining changes will see interest calculations simplified and force providers to offer online options to cancel cards or to reduce credit limits.

Morrison argues that under the current arrangements, people enticed to a card by an interest-free period have no way of calculating the cost and interest charges if they do not pay off the balance in full when the offer period ends.

Such are the technicalities and complications, most consumers have no idea how interest charges apply, and therefore incur heavy interest charges after the interest-free period when their balance is not paid in full.

Morrison said the government was targeting “unfair and predatory practices” by credit card providers.

“These measures will deliver the first phase of reforms outlined in the Government’s response to the Senate Inquiry into the credit card market,” he said.

“The reforms will substantially reduce the incidence of consumers being granted excessive credit limits and building up unsustainable debts across multiple credit cards.

“Collectively, these measures will help prevent the debt cycle that many Australians find themselves in.”

Of the $52 billion owed on 16.7 million credit cards in Australia, which often attracts interest charges of around 20%, the average outstanding balance is $4,730.

What’s The Correlation Between Mortgage Stress And Loan Non Performance?

Last night DFA was involved in a flurry of tweets about the relationship between our rolling mortgage stress data and mortgage non-performance over time. The core questions revolved around our method of assessing mortgage stress, and the strength, or otherwise of the correlation.

We were also asked about our expectations as to when non-performing mortgage loans will more above 1% of portfolio, given the uptick in stress we are seeing at the moment.

Our May 2017 data showed that across the nation, more than 794,000 households are now in mortgage stress (last month 767,000) with 30,000 of these in severe stress. This equates to 24.8% of households, up from 23.4% last month. We also estimate that nearly 55,000 households risk default in the next 12 months.

However, it got too late last night to try and explain our analysis in 140 characters. So here is more detail on our approach to mortgage stress, and importantly a chart which slows the relationship between stress data and mortgage non-performance.

Our analysis uses our core market model which combines information from our 52,000 household surveys, public data from the RBA, ABS and APRA; and private data from lenders and aggregators. The data is current to end May 2017.

We analyse household cash flow based on real incomes, outgoings and mortgage repayments. 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.

Those households in mild stress have little leeway in their cash flows, whereas those in severe stress are unable to meet repayments from current income. In both cases, households manage this deficit by cutting back on spending, putting more on credit cards and seeking to refinance, restructure or sell their home. Those in severe stress are more likely to be seeking hardship assistance and are often forced to sell.

We also make an estimate of predicated 30 day defaults in the year ahead (PD30) based on our stress data, and an economic overlay including expected mortgage rates, inflation, income growth and underemployment, at a post code level.

Here is the mapping between stress and non-performance of loans.

The red line is the data from the regulators on non-performing mortgage loans. In 2016 it sat around 0.7%. There was a peak following the 2007/8 financial crisis, after which interest rates and mortgage rates came down.

We show three additional lines on the chart. The first is our severe stress measure, the blue line, which is higher than the default rate, but follows the non-performance line quite well. The second line is the PD30 estimate, our prediction at the time of the expected level of default, in the year ahead. This is shown by the dotted yellow line, and tends to lead the actual level of defaults. Again there is a reasonable correlation.

The final line shows the mild stress household data. This is plotted on the right hand scale, and has a lower level of correlation, but nevertheless a reasonable level of shaping. After the GFC, rates cuts, plus the cash splash, helped households get out of trouble by in large, but since then the size of mortgages have grown, income in real terms is falling, living cost are rising as is underemployment. Plus mortgage rates have been rising, and the net impact in the past six months, with the RBA cash rate cut on one hand, and out of cycle rises by the banks on the other, is that mortgage repayments are higher today, than they were, for both owner occupied borrowers and investors. Interest only investors are the hardest hit.

Households are responding by cutting back on their spending, seeking to refinance and restructure their loans, and generally hunkering down. All not good for broader economic growth!

So, given the severe stress, mild stress and our PD30 estimates are all currently rising, we expect non-performing loans to rise above 1% of portfolio during 2018. Unless the RBA cuts, and the mortgage rates follow.

 

Rate rises driving up arrears

From Australian Broker.

Global ratings agency Standard & Poor’s has reported that recent rate moves by the major and non-major banks are behind a rise in national mortgage arrears.

The number of home loan delinquencies underlying Australian prime residential mortgage backed securities (RMBS) increased from 1.16% in March to 1.21% in April, according to a recent S&P report, RMBS Arrears Statistics: Australia.

“Part of the increase reflects a decline in outstanding loan balances, but we believe interest-rate rises announced by different lenders during the past few months affected the Standard & Poor’s Performance Index (SPIN) for Australian prime mortgages, given that most of the loans are variable-rate mortgages,” S&P analyst Erin Kitson said.

The SPIN looks at the weighted average of arrears more than 30 days past due on residential mortgages in publicly and privately rated Australian RMBS transactions and is calculated on a monthly basis.

Arrears increased in all states and territories except the ACT, NT and Tasmania. NSW, Victoria and Queensland – which account for about 80% of total loan balances – all recorded increases in arrears between March and April. The largest surges in delinquencies in this time period were as follows:

  • Queensland (1.58% to 1.66%)
  • New South Wales (0.85% to 0.91%)
  • Western Australia (2.27% to 2.32%)

However, the number of delinquencies in NSW and Victoria remain below the weighted average SPIN for prime mortgages.

The increase in arrears was greatest amongst the regional banks with mortgage payments more than 30 days late rising from 2.02% in March to 2.27% in April. This was around 1.8 times higher than the prime SPIN, Kitson said.

“We attribute this in part to a decline in outstanding loan balances and the regional banks’ greater exposure to Queensland; around half of all regional banks’ outstanding loan balances are domiciled in the state.”

In comparison, non-regional banks recorded an increase in arrears from 1.10% to 1.14% between the two months while non-banks rose from 0.87% to 0.95% in the same time period. These figures remained below the SPIN.

Finally, for non-conforming loans, arrears fell from 6.17% to 5.03% between April and March, due to a backdrop of increasing loan balances.

“Interestingly, mortgage repayments more than 90 days past due made up around 41% of the total nonconforming arrears in April compared with 60% for prime arrears. The proportion has been broadly consistent in the nonconforming sector for the past 10 years, but has increased more markedly in the prime sector during the period.”

Improvements in the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in May are credit positive for mortgage arrears, Kitson said.

“Relatively stable employment conditions in Australia have underpinned the low levels of arrears and losses in Australian RMBS transactions; loss of income is a key cause of mortgage default. Declining unemployment and positive jobs growth are fundamental to the ongoing stable collateral performance of Australian RMBS.”

RBNZ Official Cash Rate unchanged at 1.75 percent

The Reserve Bank today left the Official Cash Rate (OCR) unchanged at 1.75 percent.

Global economic growth has increased and become more broad-based.  However, major challenges remain with on-going surplus capacity and extensive political uncertainty.

Headline inflation has increased over the past year in several countries, but moderated recently with the fall in energy prices.  Core inflation and long-term bond yields remain low.  Monetary policy is expected to remain stimulatory in the advanced economies, but less so going forward.

The trade-weighted exchange rate has increased by around 3 percent since May, partly in response to higher export prices.  A lower New Zealand dollar would help rebalance the growth outlook towards the tradables sector.

GDP growth in the March quarter was lower than expected, with weaker export volumes and residential construction partially offset by stronger consumption.  Nevertheless, the growth outlook remains positive, supported by accommodative monetary policy, strong population growth, and high terms of trade.  Recent changes announced in Budget 2017 should support the outlook for growth.

House price inflation has moderated further, especially in Auckland.  The slowdown in house price inflation partly reflects loan-to-value ratio restrictions, and tighter lending conditions.  This moderation is projected to continue, although there is a risk of resurgence given the on-going imbalance between supply and demand.

The increase in headline inflation in the March quarter was mainly due to higher tradables inflation, particularly petrol and food prices.  These effects are temporary and may lead to some variability in headline inflation.  Non-tradables and wage inflation remain moderate but are expected to increase gradually.  This will bring future headline inflation to the midpoint of the target band over the medium term. Longer-term inflation expectations remain well-anchored at around 2 percent.

Monetary policy will remain accommodative for a considerable period.  Numerous uncertainties remain and policy may need to adjust accordingly.

The Problem With The Bank Tax

Interesting report from The Centre for Independent Studies – “The Major Bank Levy: We’re all going to be hit“.

The major bank levy was proposed in the 2017–18 Budget. The levy has numerous flaws including:

  • The costs of the levy will likely be passed on as higher interest rates for mortgages and business loans, harming households and business investment which is very weak.
  • The levy won’t materially change the expected surplus, based on current forecasts and therefore will minimally impact Australia’s AAA credit rating.
  • If the big banks have ‘unfair’ advantages, it is far better to remove those advantages than impose a levy.
  • If the levy is supposedly pro-competitive, this prejudges and devalues a separate Productivity Commission (PC) inquiry into this issue, which has been compromised before it even starts.
  • The development of the levy breaches numerous requirements for best practice regulation and increases sovereign or regulatory risk.
  • The levy cannot be ignored as being small relative to the economy. A bad policy is bad no matter what its size, and the levy is likely to be increased to a more harmful level.
  • Banks will be encouraged by the levy to use funding that is more risky for the financial system or taxpayers.
  • If the levy confirms large banks are Too Big To Fail, this contradicts official work to ensure this does not occur, and will increase financial market risk.

Australia’s big banks could still face increased mortgage risks

From Business Insider.

Among the major banks, Commonwealth Bank is least favoured due to its exposure to the mortgage market and the weakest capital position among its peers.

Big Australian banks could still face increased risk weightings on their mortgage loan books, regardless of this month’s international banking review.

That’s the view of Morgan Stanley analysts, who argue that Australia’s bank regulator, APRA, has the scope to enforce higher risk weightings to meet its own definition of an “unquestionably strong” capital position for the banks.

Higher risk weightings for mortgages would require the majors to increase their levels of Tier 1 capital in order to meet minimum capital ratio requirements.

The analysts highlighted comments by Brad Carr, director of banking prudential policy at the Institute of International Finance. Carr said that the Basel IV requirements wouldn’t be particularly onerous on Australian banks, given their already strong capital positions in comparison to international peers.

However, Morgan Stanley is of the view that APRA could use its authority domestically to enforce stricter capital requirements in addition to the Basel IV guidelines.

Referring to Basel IV as more of a minimum international standard, the analysts highlighted recent comments from APRA about higher lending risks and the high concentration of home loans in the asset portfolios of Australian banks.

Morgan Stanley says that for every 5% increase (from the current level of 25%) will require the big 4 Australian banks to raise another $3.3 billion worth of capital:

Of the Big 4, Morgan Stanley says Westpac is the most exposed to more stringent capital requirements, given the size of its home loan portfolio.

For a 5% risk weighting increase, Westpac would be required to raise another $1.2 billion, while on the other end of the spectrum ANZ would have to raise around $500 million.

ANZ remains the favoured pick of Morgan Stanley analysts, with superior earnings per share (EPS) to its peers and a strong capital position.

Housing and Financial Stability

An excellent speech by Fed Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer at the DNB-Riksbank Macroprudential Conference Series, Amsterdam, Netherlands

It is often said that real estate is at the center of almost every financial crisis. That is not quite accurate, for financial crises can, and do, occur without a real estate crisis. But it is true that there is a strong link between financial crises and difficulties in the real estate sector. In their research about financial crises, Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff document that the six major historical episodes of banking crises in advanced economies since the 1970s were all associated with a housing bust. Plus, the drop in house prices in a bust is often bigger following credit-fueled housing booms, and recessions associated with housing busts are two to three times more severe than other recessions. And, perhaps most significantly, real estate was at the center of the most recent crisis.

In addition to its role in financial stability, or instability, housing is also a sector that draws on and faces heavy government intervention, even in economies that generally rely on market mechanisms. Coming out of the financial crisis, many jurisdictions are undergoing housing finance reforms, and enacting policies to prevent the next crisis. Today I would like to focus on where we now stand on the role of housing and real estate in financial crises, and what we should be doing about that situation. We shall discuss primarily the situation in the United States, and to a much lesser extent, that in other countries.

Housing and Government
Why are governments involved in housing markets? Housing is a basic human need, and politically important‑‑and rightly so. Using a once-popular term, housing is a merit good‑‑it can be produced by the private sector, but its benefit to society is deemed by many great enough that governments strive to make it widely available. As such, over the course of time, governments have supported homebuilding and in most countries have also encouraged homeownership.

Governments are involved in housing in a myriad of ways. One way is through incentives for homeownership. In many countries, including the United States, taxpayers can deduct interest paid on home mortgages, and various initiatives by state and local authorities support lower-income homebuyers. France and Germany created government-subsidized home-purchase savings accounts. And Canada allows early withdrawal from government-provided retirement pension funds for home purchases.

And‑‑as we all know‑‑governments are also involved in housing finance. They guarantee credit to consumers through housing agencies such as the U.S. Federal Housing Administration or the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. The Canadian government also guarantees mortgages on banks’ books. And at various points in time, jurisdictions have explicitly or implicitly backstopped various intermediaries critical to the mortgage market.

Government intervention in the United States has also addressed the problem of the fundamental illiquidity of mortgages. Going back 100 years, before the Great Depression, the U.S. mortgage system relied on small institutions with local deposit bases and lending markets. In the face of widespread runs at the start of the Great Depression, banks holding large portfolios of illiquid home loans had to close, exacerbating the contraction. In response, the Congress established housing agencies as part of the New Deal to facilitate housing market liquidity by providing a way for banks to mutually insure and sell mortgages.

In time, the housing agencies, augmented by post-World War II efforts to increase homeownership, grew and became the familiar government-sponsored enterprises, or GSEs: Fannie, Freddie, and the Federal Home Loan Banks (FHLBs). The GSEs bought mortgages from both bank and nonbank mortgage originators, and in turn, the GSEs bundled these loans and securitized them; these mortgage-backed securities were then sold to investors. The resulting deep securitized market supported mortgage liquidity and led to broader homeownership.

Costs of Mortgage Credit
While the benefits to society from homeownership could suggest a case for government involvement in securitization and other measures to expand mortgage credit availability, these benefits are not without costs. A rapid increase in mortgage credit, especially when it is accompanied by a rise in house prices, can threaten the resilience of the financial system.

One particularly problematic policy is government guarantees of mortgage-related assets. Pre-crisis, U.S. agency mortgage-backed securities (MBS) were viewed by investors as having an implicit government guarantee, despite the GSEs’ representations to the contrary. Because of the perceived guarantee, investors did not fully internalize the consequence of defaults, and so risk was mispriced in the agency MBS market. This mispricing can be notable, and is attributable not only to the improved liquidity, but also to implicit government guarantees. Taken together, the government guarantee and resulting lower mortgage rates likely boosted both mortgage credit extended and the rise in house prices in the run-up to the crisis.

Another factor boosting credit availability and house price appreciation before the crisis was extensive securitization. In the United States, securitization through both public and private entities weakened the housing finance system by contributing to lax lending standards, rendering the mid-2000 house price bust more severe. Although the causes are somewhat obscure, it does seem that securitization weakened the link between the mortgage loan and the lender, resulting in risks that were not sufficiently calculated or internalized by institutions along the intermediation chain. For example, even without government involvement, in Spain, securitization grew rapidly in the early 2000s and accounted for about 45 percent of mortgage loans in 2007. Observers suggest that Spain’s broad securitization practices led to lax lending standards and financial instability.

Yet, as the Irish experience suggests, housing finance systems are vulnerable even if they do not rely on securitization. Although securitization in Ireland amounted to only about 10 percent of outstanding mortgages in 2007, lax lending standards and light regulatory oversight contributed to the housing boom and bust in Ireland.

Macroprudential Policies
To summarize, murky government guarantees, lax lending terms, and securitization were some of the key factors that made the housing crisis so severe. Since then, to damp the house price-credit cycle that can lead to a housing crisis, countries worldwide have worked to create or expand existing macroprudential policies that would, in principle, limit credit growth and the rate of house price appreciation.

Most macroprudential policies focus on borrowers. Loan-to-value (LTV) and debt-to-income (DTI) ratio limits aim to prevent borrowers from taking on excessive debt. The limits can also be adjusted in response to conditions in housing markets; for example, the Financial Policy Committee of the Bank of England has the authority to tighten LTV or DTI limits when threats to financial stability emerge from the U.K. housing market. Stricter LTV or DTI limits find some measure of success. One study conducted across 119 countries from 2000 to 2013 suggests that lower LTV limits lead to slower credit growth. In addition, evidence from a range of studies suggests that decreases in the LTV ratio lead to a slowing of the rate of house price appreciation. However, some other research suggests that the effectiveness of LTV limits is not significant or somewhat temporary.

Other macroprudential policies focus on lenders. First and foremost, tightening bank capital regulation enhances loss-absorbing capacity, strengthening financial system resilience. In addition, bank capital requirements for mortgages that increase when house prices rise may be used to lean against mortgage credit growth and house price appreciation. These policies are intended to make bank mortgage lending more expensive, leading borrowers to reduce their demand for credit, which tends to push house prices down. Estimates of the effects of such changes vary widely: After consideration of a range of estimates from the literature, an increase of 50 percentage points in the risk weights on mortgages would result in a house price decrease from as low as 0.6 percent to as high as 4.0 percent. These policies are more effective if borrowers are fairly sensitive to a rise in interest rates and if migration of intermediation outside the banking sector to nonbanks is limited.

Of course, regulatory reforms and in some countries, macroprudential policies‑‑are still being implemented, and analysis is currently under way to monitor the effects. So far, research suggests that macroprudential tightening is associated with slower bank credit growth, slower housing credit growth, and less house price appreciation. Borrower, lender, and securitization-focused macroprudential policies are likely all useful in strengthening financial stability.

Loan Modification in a Crisis
Even though macroprudential policies reduce the incidence and severity of housing related crises, they may still occur. When house prices drop, households with mortgages may find themselves underwater, with the amount of their loan in excess of their home’s current price. As Atif Mian and Amir Sufi have pointed out, this deterioration in household balance sheets can lead to a substantial drop in consumption and employment. Extensive mortgage foreclosures–that is, undertaking the legal process to evict borrowers and repossess the house and then selling the house–as a response to household distress can exacerbate the downturn by imposing substantial dead-weight costs and, as properties are sold, causing house prices to fall further.

Modifying loans rather than foreclosing on them, including measures such as reducing the principal balance of a loan or changing the loan terms, can allow borrowers to stay in their homes. In addition, it can substantially reduce the dead-weight costs of foreclosure.

Yet in some countries, institutional or legal frictions impeded desired mortgage modifications during the recent crisis. And in many cases, governments stepped in to solve the problem. For example, U.S. mortgage loans that had been securitized into private-label MBS relied on the servicers of the loans to perform the modification. However, operational and legal procedures for servicers to do so were limited, and, as a result, foreclosure, rather than modification, was commonly used in the early stages of the crisis. In 2008, new U.S. government policies were introduced to address the lack of modifications. These policies helped in three ways. First, they standardized protocols for modification, which provided servicers of private-label securities some sense of common practice. Second, they provided financial incentives to servicers for modifying loans. Third, they established key criteria for judging whether modifications were sustainable or not, particularly limits on mortgage payments as a percentage of household income. This last policy was to ensure that borrowers could actually repay the modified loans, which prompted lenders to agree more readily to the modification policies in the first place.

Ireland and Spain also aimed to restructure nonperforming loans. Again, government involvement was necessary to push these initiatives forward. In Ireland, mortgage arrears continued to accumulate until the introduction of the Mortgage Arrears Resolution Targets scheme in 2013, and in Spain, about 10 percent of mortgages were restructured by 2014, following government initiatives to protect vulnerable households. Public initiatives promoting socially desirable mortgage modifications in times of crises tend to be accompanied by explicit public fund support even though government guarantees may be absent in normal times.

What Has Been Done? What Needs to Be Done?
With the recent crisis fresh in mind, a number of countries have taken steps to strengthen the resilience of their housing finance systems. Many of the most egregious practices that emerged during the lending boom in the United States‑‑such as no- or low-documentation loans or negatively amortizing mortgages‑‑have been severely limited. Other jurisdictions are taking actions as well. Canadian authorities withdrew government insurance backing on non-amortizing lines of credit secured by homes. The United States and the European Union required issuers of securities to retain some of the credit risk in them to better align incentives among participants (although in the United States, MBS issued by Fannie and Freddie are currently exempt from this requirement). And post-crisis, many countries are more actively pursuing macroprudential policies, particularly those targeted at the housing sector. New Zealand, Norway, and Denmark instituted tighter LTV limits or guidelines for areas that had overheating housing markets. Globally, the introduction of new capital and liquidity regulations has increased the resilience of the banking system.

But memories fade. Fannie, Freddie, and the Federal Housing Administration are now the dominant providers of mortgage funding, and the FHLBs have expanded their balance sheets notably. House prices are now high and rising in several countries, perhaps as a result of extended periods of low interest rates.

What should be done as we move ahead?

First, macroprudential policies can help reduce the incidence and severity of housing crises. While some policies focus on the cost of mortgage credit, others attempt directly to restrict households’ ability to borrow. Each policy has its own merits and working out their respective advantages is important.

Second, government involvement can promote the social benefits of homeownership, but those benefits come at a cost, both directly, for example through the beneficial tax treatment of homeownership, and indirectly through government assumption of risk. To that extent, government support, where present, should be explicit rather than implicit, and the costs should be balanced against the benefits, including greater liquidity in housing finance engendered through a uniform, guaranteed instrument.

Third, a capital regime that takes the possibility of severe stress seriously is important to calm markets and restart the normal process of intermediation should a crisis materialize. A well-capitalized banking system is a necessary condition for stability in bank-based financial systems as well as those with large nonbank sectors. This necessity points to the importance of having resilient banking systems and also stress testing the system against scenarios with sharp declines in house prices.

Fourth, rules and expectations for mortgage modifications and foreclosure should be clear and workable. Past experience suggests that both lenders and borrowers benefit substantially from avoiding costly foreclosures. Housing-sector reforms should consider polices that promote efficient modifications in systemic crises.

In the United States, as around the world, much has been done. The core of the financial system is much stronger, the worst lending practices have been curtailed, much progress has been made in processes to reduce unnecessary foreclosures, and the actions associated with the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 created some improvement over the previous ambiguity surrounding the status of government support for Fannie and Freddie.

But there is more to be done, and much improvement to be preserved and built on, for the world as we know it cannot afford another pair of crises of the magnitude of the Great Recession and the Global Financial Crisis.