More than 1 million Australians face mortgage strife

From The AFR.

Exclusive analysis performed for AFR Weekend has revealed that more than a million Australian home owners will struggle with mortgage stress if interest rates were to rise just three percentage points.

Data from research house Digital Finance Analytics shows that close to one in three households from Victoria, Tasmania and Western Australia will experience mortgage stress ranging from mild to severe in the event of just three rises of 25 basis points. A rise of 300 basis points, back to more normal levels, would be much more severe.

The news follows warnings from the OECD that the nation has a one in five chance of entering recession and Australia’s $6.5 trillion housing market is running the risk of a hard landing.

Runaway house prices in Melbourne and Sydney have added to the risks facing the economy as rising levels of household debt make home owners and property speculators vulnerable to unexpected moves in interest rates.

The Reserve Bank of Australia’s official cash rate, on which mortgage rates are based, is as an “emergency low” 1.5 per cent. In practice that means mortgage repayment rates are between about 4 per cent and 5 per cent of the loan amount per year.

Digital Financial Analytics principal Martin North says that a shake out in the property market would not be restricted to lower income areas and would include households in the trophy suburbs of Bondi and Lane Cove in Sydney as well as homes in the leafy green streets of Toorak and Prahran in Melbourne.

“The common theme here is affluent households paying top dollar for apartments with big mortgages and the potential to be caught out by rising interest rates and flat or falling incomes. Even places like the lower north shore are being hit” he said.

Under the modelling performed by Digital Finance Analytics, there are around 650,000 households in Australia experiencing some form of mortgage stress. The numbers are consistent with a Roy Morgan report from September 2016 that showed one in five households were experiencing mortgage stress.

The longstanding measure for mortgage stress has been 30 per cent of household income.

Mild mortgage stress might see household cut back on childcare expenses, dipping into savings or reaching for the credit card in order to make payments. Severe mortgage stress indicates that the mortgage holder has missed a payment or payments and is already considering selling the property.

If rates were to rise 150 basis points the number of Australians in mortgage stress would rise to approximately 930,000 and if rates rose 300 basis points the number would rise to 1.1 million – or more than a third of all mortgages. A 300 basis point rise would take the cash rate to 4.5 per cent, still lower than the 4.75 per cent for most of 2011.

Professor Roger Wilkins of the Melbourne Institute at the University of Melbourne produces the Household Income and Labour Dynamics Survey, regarded as one of the best sources of information about housing affordability in Australia.

He says that while mortgage stress hasn’t materially increased in recent years that a sharp rise in interest rates would be destructive to household finances everywhere.

 “If the cash rate goes to 6 per cent then you would expect to see a lot people in strife. Particularly with wage growth and inflation at such low levels so that does increase vulnerability to rises to interest rates” Mr Wilkins said.

Property price growth putting banks at risk: S&P

From Australian Broker

Most Australian banks are facing a one or two notch rating downgrade over the next two years as rising residential property prices put financial institutions at risk.

 

In a commentary on Australian banks entitled Rising Economic Risks Could Cut Ratings on Most Australian Financial Institutions by One Notch, S&P Global Ratings has examined the dangers of Australia’s hot housing market.

Rising economic imbalances are increasing the risk of a sharp correction in property prices, analysts at the global ratings agency said.

If such a scenario occurs, S&P highlighted eight financial institutions (including six banks) which would incur large credit losses and a subsequent credit rating downgrade.

S&P makes these ratings adjustments by focusing on the Risk Adjusted Capital (RAC) Framework.

“Our risk weights applicable to a bank’s loans are calibrated to the economic risk we see in the country. Consequently, as economic risks in a country rise in our opinion, we increase the risk weights, and that pushes down the capital ratios,” Sharad Jain, director at S&P Global Ratings, told Australian Broker.

“This in turn, could have an additional downward impact on bank ratings. This is because our risk adjusted capital ratios are a key driver of our capital and earnings assessment – which is an analytical factor in our assessment of a bank’s rating.”

In the event of rising economic risks facing banks in a particular country, this by itself would be enough to place pressure on bank ratings within that country, he said.

S&P expects property price growth to moderate and then remain at relatively low levels during the next 12 to 18 months.

However, analysts warned there is a one-in-three chance of a ‘downside scenario’ occurring in which property prices spiked. The resultant rise in risk would weaken the capital ratios of all banks in Australia.

For most banks, this movement would not be enough to put further pressure on their credit profiles. Thus, most financial institutions would only be downgraded by one notch.

However, S&P Global gave a warning about eight Australian financial institutions, highlighting two banks – Auswide Bank and MyState Bank – as being at greatest risk in this ‘downside scenario’.

“It is important to point out that, if our downside scenario materialises, to review our ratings on these institutions, we would make an assessment of their position and plans in relation to capital, business, and broader financial profile,” Jain said.

“A two-notch downgrade would be only one of the three likely outcomes in that scenario. The other two likely outcomes are a one-notch downgrade with stable outlook or a one-notch downgrade with a negative outlook.”

S&P Global also warned about the risks posed for AMP Bank, HSBC Bank Australia, ME Bank and P&N Bank in these circumstances although the agency admitted that parent support from these institutions is highly likely to prevent a two notch downgrade.

OECD Paints A Sanguine Picture Of The Australian Economy, Includes Housing Risks

The latest OECD Report – 2017 Economic Survey of Australia says whilst Australia’s economy has enjoyed considerable success in recent decades, the economy shares the global risk of a “low-growth trap”.

Living standards and well-being are generally high, though challenges remain in gender gaps and in greenhouse-gas emissions, and further challenges arise from population ageing.

Low interest rates have supported aggregate demand but are also ramping up risk-taking by investors and driving house prices and mortgage lending to historical highs.

A fall in house prices and or demand could have significant macroeconomic implications. Specifically, the market may not ease gently but develop into a rout on prices and demand with significant macroeconomic implications.

Macrofinancial indicators underline the threat from the housing market, with house prices and related indicators (house indebtedness, bank size), pointing to continued vulnerability. Any impact will most likely be through aggregate demand than financial instability.

They advocate tight macroprudential measures, improved housing supply, and reducing banks’ implicit guarantees by developing a loss absorbing and recapitalisation framework.

They support a cut in company tax, and an expansion of the GST, switching from transaction taxes (like stamp duty) to land taxes.

They say the economy is now rebalancing following the end of the commodity boom, supported by macroeconomic policies and currency depreciation. The strengthening non-mining sector is projected to support output growth of around 3% in 2018 and spur further reduction in the unemployment rate.

 

Improving competition and other framework conditions that influence the absorption and development of innovation are key for restoring productivity growth.

Innovation requires labour and capital markets that facilitate new business models. Productivity growth could be boosted through stronger collaboration between business and research sectors in R&D activity.

Australia’s adjustment to the end of the commodity boom has not been painless. Unemployment has risen, and there are increasing concerns about inequality.

In addition, large socioeconomic gaps between Australia’s indigenous community and the rest of the population remain. Developing innovation-related skills will be important for the underprivileged and those displaced by economic restructuring, and can help reduce gender wage gaps.

Externally, Australia, as always, is exposed to the vagaries of global commodity markets and this might include a renewed plunge in prices (or, positively, a strong resurgence). Australia’s iron ore production is among the lowest cost in the world and therefore comparatively insulated from such developments, however its coal sector is relatively more exposed as its production is distributed across the cost curve. Interaction of downside scenarios is likely to exacerbate the negative macroeconomic outcomes.

For instance, a negative external shock could lift unemployment sharply which would result in significant fall in consumption and rising mortgage stress and falling house prices. The economy is well positioned to handle shocks. The speed and strength of the rebalancing processes in response to the end of the commodity boom auger well for the economy’s shock-absorbing capacity. In addition, Australia has more reserve capacity for monetary and fiscal stimulus than many other OECD economies.

The slideshow is available here.

 

Property prices at cyclical high: CoreLogic

From The Real Estate Conversation.

With the current cycle in its 58th month, property price growth hit a new high in February, with prices rising 1.4 per cent to be up 11.7 per cent for the year.

The monthly CoreLogic Hedonic Home Value Index showed Canberra led the way in February with prices rising 3.2 per cent, and Sydney prices were up 2.6 per cent for the month.

Darwin prices fell 4.3 per cent for the month, Perth prices were down 2.4%, and Brisbane eased 0.4 per cent.

Growth conditions have accelerated since mid-2016, said CoreLogic head of research Tim Lawless, as lower interest rates and strong demand from investors drive price increases.

“Growth conditions have been rebounding since the middle of last year when, on two separate occasions, interest rates were cut, and investor demand commenced trending higher,” he said.

Lawless said before the rate cuts, price growth was moderating.

“Prior to capital gains accelerating half way through last year, the growth trend had been moderating, reaching a cyclical low point over the twelve months ended July 2016 when the annual change in capital city dwelling values slowed to 6.1%,” said Lawless.

The February results mark a new high point in the current growth cycle, said Lawless.

“The annual growth rate across the combined capitals hasn’t been this strong since the twelve months ending June 2010,” he said.

Lawless said, “In Sydney, where the annual rate of growth is now 18.4%, this is the highest annual growth rate since the twelve months ending December 2002 when the housing boom of the early 2000’s started to slow.”

The current growth cycle is now approaching five years, being in it 58th month, according to CoreLogic. Since property prices in capital cities began rising June 2012, dwelling values have increased by a cumulative 47.3 per cent, ranging from a 74.9 per cent capital gain in Sydney, to a rise of 6.0% in Perth.

Lawless said the high price growth was bad news for those hoping to get onto the property ladder.

“The strong growth conditions across Sydney have provided a substantial wealth boost for home owners, however, the flipside is that housing costs are becoming increasingly out of reach,” he said.

Lawless said in Sydney, based on September 2016 numbers, dwelling prices are almost 8.5 times higher than gross household income. The figure for Melbourne is 7.1 times.

Craig James, chief economist of CommSec, wrote, “It may be no surprise to see that home prices continue to lift across most capital cities. But what was clearly surprising was the size of the lift in prices.”

“Policymakers will keep a close eye on the housing sector the early part of 2017,” said James, saying they “will prefer to see more balanced house price growth across the nation.”

Lending Growth All About Housing

The latest RBA credit aggregate data shows that total lending grew in January 2017 by $14 billion, or 0.5%. Of that housing rose to $1,637.4 billion, up 1% or $15.2 billion. Business lending and unsecured personal finance fell. Clearly housing is where the action is, and given this data and strong clearances, home prices, especially in the eastern states are likely to continue to rise. It also explains the RBA’s recent comments and APRA’s tighter lending guidance. Household debt climbs ever higher, with the risks to match! No way can the RBA cut the cash rate on these numbers.

We see investment lending remained strong at $5.3 billion (0.9%) whilst owner occupied loans grew by $10 billion (1%). Investment loans were one third of all housing loans written.

The adjusted annual growth rates for housing loans was 6.4%, with owner occupied loans growing at 6.3% and investment loans 6.6%. Business lending was at 4.7% and personal credit a negative 1.3%.

The monthly movements are more noisy, but housing rose 0.5%, the same as a year ago.

The RBA notes:

All growth rates for the financial aggregates are seasonally adjusted, and adjusted for the effects of breaks in the series as recorded in the notes to the tables listed below. Data for the levels of financial aggregates are not adjusted for series breaks. Historical levels and growth rates for the financial aggregates have been revised owing to the resubmission of data by some financial intermediaries, the re-estimation of seasonal factors and the incorporation of securitisation data. The RBA credit aggregates measure credit provided by financial institutions operating domestically. They do not capture cross-border or non-intermediated lending.

Following the introduction of an interest rate differential between housing loans to investors and owner-occupiers in mid-2015, a number of borrowers have changed the purpose of their existing loan; the net value of switching of loan purpose from investor to owner-occupier is estimated to have been $49 billion over the period of July 2015 to January 2017, of which $1 billion occurred in January 2017. These changes are reflected in the level of owner-occupier and investor credit outstanding. However, growth rates for these series have been adjusted to remove the effect of loan purpose changes.

We will look at the APRA ADI data later.

Invest in Urban Transport to Fix Housing Affordability

From AAP.

Soaring household debt and housing prices could make it “dangerous” to cut interest rates, the head of the Reserve Bank of Australia says.

Dr Philip Lowe has told a Federal parliamentary economics committee that a deeper cut to the official cash rate could deliver a short-term boost to jobs and inflation but also push already-high property prices and household debt levels to worrying levels.

“Is it really in the national interest to create a little bit more employment growth in the short-run at the expense of creating vulnerabilities which could be quite dangerous in the long term,” Dr Lowe said at the hearing in Sydney on Friday.

He said another rate cut could help drive down the unemployment rate, which could be lower than its current 5.7 per cent, and boost underlying inflation, which could be higher than 1.55 per cent.

RBA figures show the household debt-to-income ratio is already at 187 per cent, while total household debt is equal to about 123 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product.

“I accept that different people will come to different points on judging that trade-off; at the moment we’re in a reasonable place because the unemployment rate is broadly steady and household debt and house price growth at the aggregate level are fast enough,” Dr Lowe said.

“I feel if they were even faster at the moment we would be moving into the area where the vulnerabilities are increasing, perhaps to unacceptable levels.”

Lower housing prices and household debt levels would only marginally strengthen the case for another rate cut, he said.

The central bank chief said monetary policy alone could no longer drive growth and it was up to the Parliament to use fiscal policy — through changes to tax and spending — to support the economy.

“Monetary policy at the margin can help you, but were talking very much at the margin,” he said.

The best way the Government could reduce pressure on property prices and boost growth would be investing in urban transport infrastructure, he said.

He said with a growing population, crowded cities, poor land supply and the difficulties people encounter moving around, investment in urban transport infrastructure would be “a first order gain”.

“It increases demand, takes the pressure off ultra-low interest rates, increases the productive capacity of the economy because people can move around, it takes the pressure off housing prices,” Dr Lowe.

“It’s probably the best housing affordability policy.”

Home Deposits Unwelcome in Super

From The Financial Standard.

Superannuation industry groups are warning the federal government to keep Australia’s $2 trillion retirement savings system away from addressing the nation’s housing affordability problems.

Earlier this week Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison said the government is likely to address housing affordability in its May Budget, and there have been several suggestions about how to deliver the best outcome.

New South Wales Minister for Planning and Housing, Anthony Roberts, recently mentioned the idea of unlocking superannuation for first home deposits.

Industry Super Australia believes the idea is bad policy as it could reduce retirement savings and drive up housing prices while doing nothing to address supply.

ISA chief economist Stephen Anthony said: “In the housing affordability debate, the focus should be on land release, regulation and tax subsidies that fuel investment in existing property rather than new buildings. Allowing first home buyers early access to their super will set back a retirement income system that is still struggling to fully deliver.”

Anthony also said the proposal is inconsistent with the federal government’s objective of super, being “to provide income in retirement to substitute or supplement the age pension.”

The Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees (AIST) also warned against using superannuation to tackle the nation’s housing affordability challenge.

“The superannuation industry shares concerns about housing affordability for the young but superannuation is not the silver bullet,” AIST chief executive Tom Garcia said.

“Superannuation is about saving for retirement. It’s not a savings pool to be used for any other purpose as the government has made clear in its own proposed objective for super.”

Morrison said in a radio interview with Ray Hadley that he’s had good discussions with senior NSW government ministers about housing affordability issues for a long time.

“It is a big challenge particularly for people here in Sydney and particularly people down in Melbourne. Whether it is in Queensland or other places, particularly South East Queensland there are real challenges there. We want to look at ways that we can improve that situation. It is not just for people who are looking to buy their first home,” Morrison said.

The Property Imperative 8 Now Available

The latest and updated edition of our flagship report “The Property Imperative” is now available with data to end February 2017. This eighth edition updates the current state of the market by looking at the activities of different household groups using our recent primary research, and other available data. It features recent work from the DFA Blog and also contains new original research.

In this edition, we look at mortgage stress and defaults across both owner occupied and investment loans, housing affordability and the updated impact of “The Bank of Mum and Dad” on first time buyers.

We also examine the latest dynamics in the property investment sector including a review of portfolio investors, and discuss recent leading indicators which may suggest a future downturn.

The overall level of household debt continues to rise and investment loans are back in favour at the moment, though this may change. Here is the table of contents.

1       Introduction. 
2       The Property Imperative – Winners and Losers. 
2.1         An Overview of the Australian Residential Property Market.
2.2         Home Price Trends. 
2.3         The Lending Environment. 
2.4         Bank Portfolio Analysis. 
2.5         Broker Shares And Commissions. 
2.6         Market Aggregate Demand.
3       Segmentation Analysis. 
3.1         Want-to-Buys. 
3.2         First Timers.
3.3         Refinancers.
3.4         Holders. 
3.5         Up-Traders.
3.6         Down-Traders. 
3.7         Solo Investors. 
3.8         Portfolio Investors.
3.9         Super Investment Property. 
4       Mortgage Stress and Default.
4.1         State And Regional Analysis. 
4.2         Stress By Household Profile. 
4.3         Stress By Property Segments.
4.4         Stress By Household Segments. 
4.5         Post Code Level Analysis.
4.6         Top 100 Post Codes And Geo-mapping. 
5       Interest Rate Sensitivity. 
5.1         Owner Occupied Borrowers. 
5.1.1          Sensitivity by Loan Value. 
5.2         Cumulative Sensitivity. 
5.2.1          Owner Occupied Borrowers. 
5.2.2          Investment Loan Borrowers. 
5.2.3          Owner Occupied AND Investment Loan Borrowers. 
6       Housing Affordability And Hot Air.

Request the free report [61 pages] using the form below. You should get confirmation your message was sent immediately and you will receive an email with the report attached after a short delay.

Note this will NOT automatically send you our ongoing research updates, for that register here.

Tackling housing unaffordability: a 10-point national plan

From The Conversation

The widening cracks in Australia’s housing system can no longer be concealed. The extraordinary recent debate has laid bare both the depth of public concern and the vacuum of coherent policy to promote housing affordability. The community is clamouring for leadership and change.

Especially as it affects our major cities, housing unaffordability is not just a problem for those priced out of a decent place to live. It also damages the efficiency of the entire urban economy as lower paid workers are forced further from jobs, adding to costly traffic congestion and pushing up unemployment.

There have recently been some positive developments at the state level, such as Western Australia’s ten year commitment to supply 20,000 affordable homes for low and moderate income earners. Meanwhile, following South Australia’s lead, Victoria plans to mandate affordable housing targets for developments on public land. And in March the NSW State Premier announced a fund to generate $1bn in affordable housing investment.

But although welcome, these initiatives will not turn the affordability problem around while tax settings continue to support existing homeowners and investors at the expense of first time buyers and renters. Moreover, apart from a brief interruption 2008-2012, the Commonwealth has been steadily winding back its explicit housing role for more than 20 years.

The post of housing minister was deleted in 2013, and just last month Government senators dismissed calls for renewed Commonwealth housing policy leadership recommended by the Senate’s extensive (2013-2015) Affordable Housing Inquiry. This complacency cannot go unchallenged.

Challenging the “best left to the market” mantra

The mantra adopted by Australian governments since the 1980s that housing provision is “best left to the market” will not wash. Government intervention already influences the housing market on a huge scale, especially through tax concessions to existing property owners, such as negative gearing. Unfortunately, these interventions largely contribute to the housing unaffordability problem rather than its solution.

But first we need to define what exactly constitutes the housing affordability challenge. In reality, it’s not a single problem, but several interrelated issues and any strategic housing plan must specifically address each of these.

Firstly, there is the problem faced by aspiring first home buyers contending with house prices escalating ahead of income growth in hot urban housing markets. The intensification of this issue is clear from the reduced home ownership rate among young adults from 53% in 1990 to just 34% in 2011 – a decline only minimally offset by the entry of well-off young households into the housing market as first-time investors.

Secondly, there is the problem of unaffordability in the private rental market affecting tenants able to keep arrears at bay only by going without basic essentials, or by tolerating unacceptable conditions such as overcrowding or disrepair. Newly published research shows that, by 2011, more than half of Australia’s low income tenants – nearly 400,000 households – were in this way being pushed into poverty by unaffordable rents.

Thirdly, there is the long-term decline in public housing and the public finance affordability challenge posed by the need to tackle this. In NSW, for example, 30-40% of all public housing is officially sub-standard.

“Why the “build more houses” approach won’t work

A factor underlying all these issues is the long-running tendency of housing construction numbers to lag behind household growth. But while action to maximise supply is unquestionably part of the required strategy, it is a lazy fallacy to claim that the solution is simply to ‘build more homes’.

Even if you could somehow double new construction in (say) 2016, this would expand overall supply of properties being put up for sale in that year only very slightly. More importantly, the growing inequality in the way housing is occupied (more and more second homes and underutilised homes) blunts any potential impact of extra supply in moderating house prices. Re-balancing demand and supply must surely therefore involve countering inefficient housing occupancy by re-tuning tax and social security settings.

Where maximising housing supply can directly ease housing unaffordability is through expanding the stock of affordable rental housing for lower income earners. Not-for-profit community housing providers – the entities best placed to help here – have expanded fast in recent years. But their potential remains constrained by the cost and terms of loan finance and by their ability to secure development sites.

Housing is different to other investment assets

Fundamentally, one of the reasons we’ve ended up in our current predicament is that the prime function of housing has transitioned from “usable facility” to “tradeable commodity and investment asset”. Policies designed to promote home ownership and rental housing provision have morphed into subsidies expanding property asset values.

Along with pro-speculative tax settings, this changed perception about the primary purpose of housing has inflated the entire urban property market. The OECD rates Australia as the fourth or fifth most “over-valued” housing market in the developed world. Property values have become detached from economic fundamentals; a longer term problem exaggerated by the boom of the past three years. As well as pushing prices beyond the reach of first home buyers, this also undermines possible market-based solutions by swelling land values which damage rental yields, undermining the scope for affordable housing. Moreover, this places Australia among those economies which, in OECD-speak, are “most vulnerable to a price correction”.

While moderated property prices could benefit national welfare, no one wants to trigger a price crash. Rather, governments need to face up to the challenge of managing a “soft landing” by phasing out the tax system’s economically and socially unjustifiable market distortions and re-directing housing subsidies to progressive effect.

A 10-point plan for improved housing affordability

Underpinned by a decade’s research on fixing Australia’s housing problems, we therefore propose the following priority actions for Commonwealth, State and Territory governments acting in concert:

  • Moderate speculative investment in housing by a phased reduction of existing tax incentives favouring rental investors (concessional treatment of negative gearing and capital gains tax liability)
  • Redirect the additional tax receipts accruing from reduced concessions to support provision of affordable rental housing at a range of price points and to offer appropriate incentives for prospective home buyers with limited means.
  • By developing structured financing arrangements (such as housing supply bonds backed by a government guarantee), actively engage with the super funds and other institutional players who have shown interest in investing in rental housing
  • Replace stamp duty (an inefficient tax on mobility) with a broad-based property value tax (a healthy incentive to fully utilise property assets)
  • Expand availability of more affordable hybrid ‘partial ownership’ tenures such as shared equity – to provide ‘another rung on the ladder’
  • Implement the Henry Tax Review recommendations on enhancing Rent Assistance to improve affordability for low income tenants especially in the capital city housing markets where rising rents have far outstripped the value of RA payments.
  • Reduce urban land price gradients (compounding housing inequity and economic segregation) by improving mass transit infrastructure and encouraging targeted regional development to redirect growth
  • Continue to simplify landuse planning processes to facilitate housing supply while retaining scope for community involvement and proper controls on inappropriate development
  • Require local authorities to develop local housing needs assessments and equip them with the means to secure mandated affordable housing targets within private housing development projects over a certain size
  • Develop a costed and funded plan for existing public housing to see it upgraded to a decent standard and placed on a firm financial footing within 10 years.

While not every interest group would endorse all of our proposals, most are widely supported by policymakers, academics and advocacy communities, as well as throughout the affordable housing industry. As the Senate Inquiry demonstrated beyond doubt, an increasingly dysfunctional housing system is exacting a growing toll on national welfare. This a policy area crying out for responsible bipartisan reform.