Another Nail In The Investment Lending Coffin

AMP has announced it will no longer accept loan applications to refinance stand-alone investment property loans with investment property security as reported by Australian Broker.

Effective tomorrow, 16 February, the bank will also be increasing Investment Interest Only rates by 0.30%, and Owner Occupied Interest Only products by 0.30% per annum.

“We will no longer accept loan applications to refinance stand- alone investment property loans with investment property security. Refinances that include owner- occupied and investment properties remain acceptable, subject to security property values,” the bank said in the announcement.

Investment Principle & Interest products are also increasing by 0.25% pa, effective tomorrow (16 February).

Along with these changes the non-major has also announced notable credit policy changes. The maximum LVR for purchases of investment property loans is reducing to 70% (including LMI), while the credit card servicing rate for calculating loan serviceability will increase from 2.5% to 3% of the credit limit. This change impacts all new loans (owner occupied and investment).

“The changes announced today do not impact pipeline deals or our existing customers and there is no change for new owner-occupied principle and interest loans,” the statement said.

“These changes are being made after recent shifts in consumer behaviour and competitor activity in the property market.”

Sally Bruce, Group Executive AMP Bank commented: “We actively manage our credit policies to ensure we prudently manage risk and align with regulatory requirements.

“With sustained high levels of activity in the property market in 2017, we will continue to closely monitor developments and put measures in place to control and manage the future growth of our investment property portfolio,” she said.

AMP’s changes come following a similar crackdown on investment lending by CBA, last week.

US Mortgage Rates On The Up Again

From Mortgage Daily News.

US Mortgage rates moved higher for the 4th straight day today, following Fed Chair Janet Yellen’s congressional testimony.  It wasn’t that Yellen’s speech or Q&A contained any major surprises.  Rather, bond markets (which dictate rates) were simply looking for some indication of “sooner vs later” with respect to the Fed’s next rate hike.  Her comments were generally more in line with “sooner.”  Bond markets responded by quickly trading rates to higher levels, resulting in multiple “negative reprices” for mortgage lenders this morning.

Bonds calmed down in the afternoon, and ended up clawing back roughly half of the morning’s losses by the end of the day.  Many lenders were consequently able to offer “positive reprices”–bringing rate sheets part of the way back to yesterday’s levels.

Despite the afternoon improvements, essentially every lender is in worse shape today vs yesterday.  The average top tier conventional 30yr fixed quote is back up to 4.25%–a move that was already in-progress yesterday.  Today’s rates are the highest since February 3rd.

CBA 1H Results Strong … But

Commonwealth Bank of Australia announced its results for the half year ended 31 December 2016 today. CBA is well run, so they are a bellwether of the broader financial sector.  It was a solid result with asset growth, 3% lift in underlying income and good cost management, but shows the pressure created by regulatory capital uplifts, competition in home lending and consumer deposits, and arrears in mining exposed areas. They continue to make strong progress in digital banking, where they are a leader.  They do not believe there is evidence for a housing bubble. Wealth and Insurance in under some pressure, so retail banking is taking the load, thus system credit growth is critical.

They also announced further interest only investment mortgage rate price hikes which will lift NIM.

CBA reported a statutory net profit after tax (NPAT) of $4,895 million, which represents a 6 per cent increase on 1H16 period. This includes a $397 million gain on sale of the Group’s remaining investment in Visa Inc. and a $393 million one-off expense for acceleration of amortisation on certain software assets.

Cash NPAT was $4,907 million, an increase of 2 per cent on the prior comparative period.

Return on equity (cash basis) was 16 per cent.

Strikingly though the net interest margin was down 4 basis points to 2.11%, or 2.08% excluding treasury, down 5 basis points. This was expected.

The key drivers were:

  • Asset pricing: Increased margin of three basis points, reflecting the impact of home loan repricing, partly offset by the impact of competition on home and business lending.
  • Funding costs: Decreased margin of five basis points, reflecting an increase in deposit costs of three basis points due to the lower cash rate and increased competition, and an increase in wholesale funding costs.
  • Portfolio mix: Decreased margin of one basis point reflecting an unfavourable change in lending mix from proportionally higher levels of home lending.
  • Capital and Other: Decreased margin of two basis points driven by the impact of the falling cash rate environment on free equity funding, and a lower contribution from New Zealand.
  • Treasury and Markets: Increased margin of two basis points driven by a higher contribution from Treasury.

Average interest earning assets increased $23 billion on the prior half to $823 billion, driven by:

  • Home loan average balances increased $16 billion or 4% on the prior half, primarily driven by growth in the domestic banking business;
  • Average balances for business and corporate lending increased $5 billion or 3% on the prior half, driven by growth in business banking lending balances; and
  • Average non-lending interest earning assets increased $2 billion or 1% on the prior half.

Customer deposits accounted for 66% of total funding at 31 December 2016. Of the remaining, Short-term wholesale funding accounted for 42% of total wholesale funding at 31 December 2016. During the half, the Group raised $22 billion of long-term wholesale funding. The cost of new long-term funding improved marginally on the prior half as markets shrugged off any potential negative sentiment associated with the US
Presidential election result, a 25 basis points Federal Reserve rate rise, higher global bond yields, and Brexit.

Loan impairment expense increased 6% on the prior comparative period to $599 million. The increase was driven by:

  • An increase in Retail Banking Services as a result of higher home loan and personal loan losses, predominantly in Western Australia;
  • Lower home loan provision releases and higher growth in New Zealand lending portfolios;
  • An increase in Bankwest due to slower run-off of the troublesome book, reduced write-backs and higher home loan losses, predominantly in Western Australia; and
  • An increase in IFS as a result of losses in the PT Bank Commonwealth (PTBC) commercial lending portfolio; partly offset by
  • Lower individual provisions in Business and Private
    Banking; and
  • A reduction in Institutional Banking and Markets due to lower collective provisions and a higher level of writebacks.

Provisioning levels remain prudent and there has been no change to the economic overlay. Retail arrears across all products reduced during the current half reflecting seasonal trends.

Home loan arrears reduced over the prior half, with 30+ days arrears decreasing from 1.21% to 1.12%, and 90+ days arrears reducing from 0.54% to 0.53%. Unsecured retail arrears improved over the half with credit card 30+ days arrears falling from 2.41% to 2.28%, and 90+ days arrears reducing from 0.99% to 0.88%. Personal loan arrears also improved with 30+ days arrears falling from 3.46% to 3.14% and 90+ days arrears falling from 1.46% to 1.28%. However personal loan arrears continue to be elevated driven primarily by Western Australia and

As at 31 December 2016, the Basel III Common Equity Tier 1 (CET1) ratio was 15.4% on an internationally comparable basis and 9.9% on an APRA basis.

The Group’s CET1 (APRA) ratio decreased 70 basis points for the half year ended 31 December 2016. After allowing for the implementation of the APRA requirement to hold additional capital of 80 basis points with respect to Australian residential mortgages, effective from 1 July 2016, the
underlying increase in the Group’s CET1 (APRA) ratio was 10 basis points on the prior half.

The Group’s leverage ratio, defined as Tier 1 Capital as a percentage of total exposures, was 4.9% at 31 December 2016 on an APRA basis and 5.5% on an internationally comparable basis.

There was a small decline in the ratio across the December 2016 half year with growth in exposures partly offset by an increase in capital levels.

The BCBS has advised that the leverage ratio will migrate to a Pillar 1 minimum capital requirement of 3% from 1 January 2018. The BCBS will confirm the final calibration in 2017. LCR was 135% at 31 Dec 2016.

The Board determined an interim dividend of $1.99 per share, a 1 cent increase on the 2016 interim dividend.

Looking in more detail at the Australian home loan portfolio, the total book was worth $423 billion in December 16. They added $53 billion of loans in the past 6 months, with an value of $311,000 and at a serviceability buffer of 2.25%. 89% were variable rate loans. 37% were investor loans (up from 33% in the prior 6 months) and 43% originated via brokers, down from 46% in June 16, reflecting a 13% rise in branch application. 40% were interest only loans, up from 38% in the previous period.

They said 77% of customers are paying in advance by 35 months on average, but this includes offset facilities. Mortgage offset balances were up 19% in 1H17 to $36 billion.

In terms of underwriting criteria they use the following parameters:

  • Higher of customer rate plus 2.25% or minimum floor rate (RBS: 7.25% pa, Bankwest: 7.35% pa)
  • 80% cap on less certain income sources (e.g. rent, bonuses etc.)
  • Maximum LVR of 95% for all loans (For Bankwest, maximum LVR excludes any capitalised mortgage insurance.)
  • Lenders’ Mortgage Insurance (LMI) for higher risk loans, including high LVR loans
  • Limits on investor income allowances e.g. RBS restrict the use of negative gearing where LVR>90%
  • Buffer applied to existing mortgage repayments
  • Interest only loans assessed on principal and interest basis

Mortgage arrears (90 day+) are highest in WA, at 1% thanks to the mining downturn. WA mining towns are 1% of portfolio.  Portfolio is running at 0.53%.

Investment mortgage arrears are running at a lower default rate, despite differential pricing, with a skew towards higher income households.

CBA says housing fundamentals suggest slower growth ahead:

  • Population growth has slowed as net migration eased. The slowing is concentrated in WA and Qld. Growth in NSW and Vic remains robust
  • Housing supply is now running ahead of housing demand, any backlog has now been met.
  • The record residential construction boom has lifted employment and related parts of retail like hardware, furnishings and white goods. But leading indicators have peaked.

They say they are serious on the 10% benchmark for investor loans and  have not exceeded the APRA speed limit.

They say households would be vulnerable to a fall in asset values and/or a rise in interest rates and unemployment though low interest rates have allowed some pre-payments and net worth has improved thanks to household asset growth.

They says the typical housing bubble factors not evident in Australia:



Macquarie Tightens Mortgage Underwriting Standards

From Australian Broker.

Macquarie Bank is about to bring in strict new credit rules forcing borrowers to disclose their household and discretionary spending in 12 different categories.

Fairfax Media reports that from today, borrowers will have to provide a detailed list of household expenditure including clothing, personal care, groceries, transport, utilities and other household rates.

Information about other expenses such as childcare, education, insurance, medical costs, investment property outlays, recreation and entertainment, telephone, internet and media streaming subscriptions will also be collected.

Applicants for interest-only loans will also have to supply a reason for the application and explain why they have opted for an interest-only loan as opposed to a principal and interest loan.

In processing these applications, brokers will also have to explain to borrowers how interest-only repayments work and what their impact is on principal and repayments once the interest-only term is finished.

Bendigo and Adelaide Bank 1H 17 – Pressure Continues

Bendigo and Adelaide Bank released their 1H17 results today. Regional banks continue to feel the pressure of low interest rates, competition for deposit funding, and home loan demand. The overall result, once you look at it, is pretty weak.  It was more to do with cost control and reduced provisioning  than margin growth, even if on higher volumes.

Their cash earnings were up 0.4% from 1H16 to $224.7m, and the statuary net profit was $209m, little changed from 1H16. Return on equity was 8.77%, down from 9.10% in IH16. Return on tangible equity was 12.63% down from 13.15% IH16 and 12.71% 2H16. The dividend was held at 34c, with a payout ratio of 70.8%.

Whist total assets were up by 3.5% on 1H16 to $70.9b, net interest margin dropped 6 basis points to 2.1%. It may be recovering a little now thanks to repricing of loans but volume may be slowing as a result. Home lending was 70.6% of loans. They are close to the 10% investment lending speed limit, so that will also trim growth.

The expenses ratio improved, as shown by the Jaws momentum.

The Keystart loan acquisition meant their mortgage lending book grew 13.9%, but 6.8% excluding the acquisition. Residential loan approvals rose, including via third party channels, but broker loans seem to be slowing post the recent repricing.

There was a 9% growth in offset portfolio loans since December 2015. They say 45% of home loan customers are ahead with their minimum repayments. 29% of customers are 3 or more repayments ahead.  Loan settlements are running at around $1.5m a month.

9% of loans are over 90% LVR.

The Bank benefited from rising property values in its Homesafe portfolio and remains sensitive to future price growth. They added (only) $2.5m of overlay in 1H17 increasing the total overlay to the value of the portfolio to $26.1m. Given the strong price growth in Sydney and Melbourne this seems low!

BDD were controlled, but residential arrears are rising a little. Great Southern is paying down as expected.

Bad debt provisions fell, partly thanks to a specific and large named, but now resolved risk.

Capital remains under pressure, with CET1 down to 7.97%. The move to advanced IRB (timing TBA) might help a bit, possibly.

All in all, they had to squeeze the lemon harder to drive a reasonable outcome, but we question whether the fundamentals are there for long-term sustainable and growing shareholder returns.

Deregulation on Horizon for US Financial Institutions

Deregulation is likely to be a significant theme for US financial institutions (FIs), with the Trump administration and Republican leaders in Congress indicating broad support to limit and simplify the regulatory regime, says Fitch Ratings. Fitch does not believe that the Dodd-Frank Act will be repealed in full; however, select provisions are potentially subject to substantial revision.

Determining the aggregate ratings or credit impact of a major deregulation initiative without specific policy proposals would be premature. It remains unclear which, if any, deregulation policies will be the focus of the administration and ultimately be passed.

However, Fitch believes that the Financial Choice Act (FCA), proposed by House Financial Service Committee Chairman Representative Jeb Hensarling, R-TX, in 2016, may serve as a blueprint for some of the changes ahead. The FCA is broad in scope and includes proposals to change FI activities, modify and potentially reduce financial regulators’ authority, limit regulatory burdens for certain FIs, add greater congressional oversight of regulators and propose reform to market infrastructure.

In determining the potential impact of such regulatory changes, both the direct impact of the change and the responses from individual banks will be key in determining the ultimate issuer credit effect. The extent to which the reforms could lead to a reduction or changes to the quality of capital and/or liquidity, or weaken governance, will be particularly important for ratings over time.

Several parts of the FCA target regulatory relief for strongly capitalized and well-managed banks, such as a proposal to exempt banks from many regulations should they exceed a 10% or higher financial leverage ratio. Smaller banks meeting the requirements would most likely benefit. For large global systemically important banks, Fitch estimates that the $400 billion in incremental Tier I capital necessary to achieve the minimum leverage ratio – the calculation would likely be similar to the Basel III supplementary leverage ratio – would outweigh any potential cost benefits of regulatory relief.

Limiting regulatory authority is another key plank of the FCA. The most significant change for the markets would be the proposed restructuring of the Federal Reserve, including how it sets interest rates, as well as its authority as a central bank. The proposed rule also calls for restructuring the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), adding congressional review of financial agency rulemaking and subjecting agencies’ rulemaking to judicial review, among others.

Overall, Fitch believes that such reviews could hamper agencies’ effectiveness and significantly impede their ability to issue new rules, which could have an overall negative effect on the system. Fitch believes that restructuring the CFPB with a Consumer Financial Opportunity Commission, as stipulated in the FCA, would lower compliance costs and reduce potential fines for consumer finance, but lead to weakening control frameworks.

RBA Warns on Housing – Sort of…

Hidden away at the end of the 62 page Statement on Monetary Policy is a gem of a paragraph relating to housing. I think this is the first warning I can remember on the subject, as up to now the RBA has been remarkable bullish. Will this mean the regulators efforts to control the risks be accelerated?

Housing prices have picked up over the second half of 2016, most notably in Sydney and Melbourne. This could see more spending and renovation activity than is currently envisaged.

On the other hand, a widespread downturn in the housing market could mean that a more significant share of projects currently in the residential construction pipeline is not completed than is currently assumed. While this is a low-probability downside risk, it could be triggered by a range of different factors.

Low rental yields and slow growth in rents could refocus property investors’ attention on the possibility of oversupply in some regions.

Although investor activity is currently quite strong, at least in Sydney and Melbourne, history shows that sentiment can turn quickly, especially if prices start to fall. Softer underlying demand for housing, for example because of a slowing in population growth or heightened concerns about household indebtedness, could also possibly prompt such a reassessment.

Now, you can read this a couple of ways, first it is a low-probability – they say, so not to worry. Or could it be that this is a way of getting housing expectations reset.

We have been highlighting potential risks in housing thanks to low income growth, sky-high debt and rapid growth in the investment sector at a time when rental yields are under pressure.

At very least it seems the housing expectation sails are being trimmed, and should things go bad later, the RBA can point back to the “I told you so” paragraph.

Lets see if the regulators get their act together now, though it is late in the day!


APRA Reaffirms 10% Investor Loan Growth Cap

Speaking today at the A50 Australian Economic Forum in Sydney, APRA Chairman Wayne Byres reaffirmed the 10% speed limit for investor loans.

Sort of makes sense given the CBA slowing of investor loans we discussed yesterday, but 10% is, in our view too high, given current salary growth and inflation rates. This is what he said:

Let me start with a warm welcome to everyone who has travelled here to be part of this event.  A little over two hundred years ago this beautiful location was seen as an ideal place for a penal colony.  Thankfully, Sydney is no longer regarded as a hardship destination, but as someone who does a reasonable amount of international travel, I know it is still quite some distance from wherever you have journeyed from.  I hope you are finding the travel to be worth it.

A few quick words about APRA. We are Australia’s prudential regulator, responsible for the prudential oversight of deposit-taking institutions; life, general, and private health insurers; and most of Australia’s superannuation assets. All up, we have coverage of just under $6 trillion in assets, which represents around 3-and-a-half times Australian GDP.

That broad coverage of the financial sector means we inevitably have a large agenda of issues on our plate, but we also have the relative luxury of working with a financial system that is fundamentally sound. To the extent we are grappling with current issues and policy questions, they don’t reflect an impaired system that needs urgent remedial attention, but rather a desire to make the system stronger and more resilient while it is in good shape to do so.

Our mission is to achieve safety within a stable, open, efficient and competitive financial system. We don’t pursue a safety-at-all-costs strategy. But it is also pretty clear the Australian financial system has benefited over the long run from operating with fairly conservative policy and financial settings.

To give you an example, the headline capital ratios of the major  Australian banks might seem low relative to international peers – collectively, they have a CET1 ratio of a touch over 9-and-a-half per cent, whereas a more normal expectation in this day and age might be something comfortably in double digits. But the Australian ratios reflect a set of conservative policy decisions that produce a lower headline capital ratio, but give us a much greater level of confidence in the financial health of the banking system.

One result of that approach is that, even though the major Australian banks are either just inside, or just outside, the top 50 banks in the world when ranked by asset size, they are amongst the small number who have retained AA credit ratings, and we have one bank in the top 10, and the remainder in or around the top 20, when ranked by market capitalisation. Clearly, investors – both debt and equity – understand their underlying quality, and the Australian community gets great benefit from the market access that provides.

The Financial System Inquiry held a couple of years ago endorsed our approach, as did the Government in its response to the Inquiry’s recommendations.

So with that background, let me turn to a few of the important issues on our plate.

The main policy item we have on our agenda in 2017 is the first recommendation of the Financial System Inquiry: that we should set capital standards so that the capital ratios of our deposit-takers are ‘unquestionably strong.’ We have been doing quite a bit of thinking on this issue, but had held off taking action until the international work in Basel on the bank capital regime had been completed.
Unfortunately, the timetable for that Basel work now seems less certain, so it would be remiss of us to wait any longer.

We will have more to say in the coming months about how we propose to give effect to the concept of unquestionably strong, but in the meantime the banking industry has been assiduously building its capital strength in anticipation. Looking through the effects of policy changes, the major banks have added in the order of 150 basis points to their CET1 ratios over the past couple of years. Assuming the industry continues to steadily build its capital, we expect it will be well placed to respond to future policy changes in an orderly manner.

If capital for the banking system is our main policy item, then housing is our main supervisory focus. I know there is always a great deal of interest in the Australian housing market, so it is probably something I should say a few words about.

It should not be surprising we have been paying particular attention to the quality of housing portfolios for some time – and particularly the quality of new lending – given housing represents the largest asset class on the banking industry’s balance sheet.

We have lifted our supervisory intensity in a number of ways – collecting more data from lenders, putting the matter on the agenda of Boards, establishing stronger lending standards that will serve to mitigate some of the risks from the current environment, and seeking in particular to moderate the rapid growth in lending to investors. These efforts are often tagged ‘macroprudential’, but in an environment of historically low interest rates, high household debt, relatively subdued wage growth, and strong competitive pressures, we see our role – in simple terms, seeking to make sure lenders continue to make sound loans to borrowers who can afford to pay them back – as really pretty basic bank supervision.

And just to be clear about it, we are not predicting whether house prices will go up or down or sideways (as the Governor of the Reserve Bank said last night, they are doing all these things in different parts of the country), but simply seeking to make sure that bank balance sheets are well equipped to handle whatever scenarios eventuate.

As things stand today, our recent efforts have generated a moderation in investor lending, which was accelerating at double digit rates of growth but has now come back into single figures. We can also be more confident in the quality of mortgage lending decisions today relative to a few years ago.

We are not complacent, however, as recent months have seen a pick-up in the rate of new lending to investors. That pick-up in itself is not necessarily surprising – with so much construction activity being completed and the resulting settlement of purchases, some pick-up in the rate of growth might be expected. But, at least for the time being, the benchmarks that we communicated – including the 10 per cent benchmark for annual growth in investor lending – remain in place and lenders that choose to operate beyond these benchmarks are under no illusions that supervisory intervention, probably in the form of higher capital requirements, is a possible consequence. If that is encouraging them to direct their competitive instincts elsewhere, then that’s probably a good thing for the system as a whole.

I have focussed very much on banking in my remarks thus far, so before my time is up I thought I would also comment on an issue that is relevant right across the financial system: the need to continue investment in existing technology platforms while at the same time putting money into new technology which may well replace it. This conundrum exists for all firms we supervise, and the issue is going to rise in importance as time goes by.

The Australian financial sector is, on the whole, pretty quick to adapt new technology as it emerges. And we have some important new infrastructure currently being built, like the New Payments Platform that will facilitate payments 24/7. But we also face the challenge that, like many parts of the world, large parts of financial firms’ core operating platforms are still based on technology that is increasingly dated, and not as integrated as it needs to be.

Particularly with the rise of fintech and potential disruptors, the temptation in the current environment is to devote a larger proportion of any investment budget to shiny new toys at the front end that excite the customer, and perhaps defer a bit of maintenance on the back office functions that make sure the customers’ transactions actually get processed and recorded correctly. As a supervisor, we are very keen to see investment in new technology by financial firms, because we think it offers considerable benefit to the soundness, efficiency and competitiveness of the financial system. The important thing for us is to make sure investment budgets are expanding to accommodate that, and it is not simply funded by a diversion of resources from other essential tasks.

I’ll conclude here and give the floor to my other panellists. I will, of course, be happy to take any questions you might have once they have had a chance to make their remarks.

Home Lending Roared Away In December

The ABS data on home finance for December 2016 confirms what we already knew, lending momentum was strong. But now we see that the number of OO first time buyers were down, whilst investment lending was strongly up.

Overall lending flows were up 0.8% in trend terms to $33.2 billion, with owner occupied loans up 0.23% ($20 billion) and investment loans up 1.68% ($13.2 billion). As a result, investment loans were 39.79% of all loans written in the month! Much of this went to the NSW market, where demand is hot, and prices are up.

Within the owner occupied data, refinancing of existing loans fell, down 1.23% to $6.38 billion, whilst other OO lending grew 0.93% to $13.6 billion. The largest percentage swing was borrowing for new dwellings, up 1.49%.

Given rates are now on the rise, we expect refinance volumes to continue to slide.

Looking at the original first time buyer data, there was 7% fall in the number of first time buyer OO loans written, down to 7,690; whilst investment loans by first time purchasers (not captured by the ABS as a separate category) is estimated to be up 1.4% to 4,236 based on the DFA household survey data. Many purchasers are going straight to the investment sector.  The average loan was $319,000 for FTB and $384,000 for other borrowers.

Finally, the original stock data shows overall loan growth on ADI’s books rose 0.67 (which if repeated for a year would equate to 8%!), way above inflation, so no wonder household debt is still building. The investment loan book grew 0.63% or $3.4 billion, whilst the OO book grew 0.7% or $7.0 billion. The total ADI book was worth 1.56 trillion and investment loans made up 34.91% of the book in December.

Is This Why CBA Has Cut Back Its Investment Lending?

As a follow-up from our recent post, this chart may explain why CBA has been forced to trim its investment housing lending sails.

If you annualise the monthly net movements in investment loan stock, in December CBA came out at 10.3%, above the 10% APRA imposed speed limit. Also, clearly the growth trend was upwards.

Further evidence to our hypothesis that the regulator picked up the phone, and suggested they should trim their growth. It also shows that the remaining majors need to be a little careful, but there is headroom in the system to take up some of the slack. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Of course the APRA data is full of noise thanks to ongoing loan reclassification, but the trend is pretty clear.