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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More On The Reduction In Home Ownership In Five Charts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Debt agreements and how to avoid unnecessary debt traps

From The Conversation.

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

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

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

Debt agreements

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

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

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

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

A growing problem in Australia

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

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

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

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

Many debt agreements are unsuitable

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

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

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

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

Better options available

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

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

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

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

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

Recommendations

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

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

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

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

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

From Nestegg.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Multi-property investors growing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The RBA backs them up

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

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

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

Housing Affordability Eases for Some

The HIA says that despite the poor levels of housing affordability there are signs of improvement for home-buyers. Investors are not so lucky.

“The HIA Housing Affordability index for Australia improved by 0.5 per cent in the September 2017 quarter but still remains 4.4 per cent below the level recorded a year ago.

“Housing Affordability has been deteriorating in Australia for decades, particularly in capital cities, as demand for new housing greatly exceeded the supply.

“Recent interventions by the government, through APRA, to curb growth in investor activity may have improved affordability for owner-occupiers.

“As a consequence of this intervention it appears that the market has responded with higher mortgage rates for investors and eased rates for owner-occupiers.

“This has had the unintended consequence of improving housing affordability for owner-occupiers.

“Irrespective of intent, this is positive news for owner-occupier buyers in the affordability equation.

The HIA Affordability Index has been produced for more than 17 years using a range of recent data including wages, house prices and borrowing costs to provide an indication of the affordability of housing.

A higher index result signifies a more favourable affordability outcome.

“The Report’s regional analysis demonstrates the substantial differences in affordability conditions around the country,” added Mr Reardon.

“Sydney retains the mantle as the nation’s least affordable housing market despite the affordability index showing a modest improvement in affordability during the quarter. It still takes twice the average Sydney income to service a mortgage on a median priced home in Sydney while avoiding mortgage stress.

Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth and Darwin all recorded modest improvements in affordability in the September quarter. Melbourne, Hobart and Canberra each recorded a modest deterioration in affordability during the quarter.

Demand For Short Term Credit Skyrockets

While personal credit, according to the RBA is not rising, as shown from their credit aggregates – to August 2017 – we see a more disturbing trend.

One of the less obvious impacts of flat incomes, rising costs and big mortgages or rents is that more households are under financial pressure, and so choose to turn to various unsecured lenders to tide them through.

Many of these are online lenders, offering instant loans, and confidential settlements. Re-borrowing rates are high, once they are on the hook inside the lenders “portal”.

In our household surveys we asked whether households were likely to seek unsecured credit to assist in managing their finances. Here are the results by state to September 2017. More than 1.4 million of the 9 million households in Australia are in this state (and it is rising fast). Not all will get a loan.

Households in NSW and WA are most likely to seek out other forms of credit. These loans, could be from SACC (Pay Day) lenders, or other sources; but are not reported at all in the official figures.

We think more than $1 billion in loans are out there, and our research shows that such short term loans really do not solve household financial issues. However, when people are desperate, they will tend to grasp at any straw in the wind, regardless of cost or consequences. We also find these households within certain household segments, who tend to be less affluent, and less well educated.

We also think more robust official reporting would help shine a light on the sector, and separate the sheep from the goats!

ASIC committed to improving the financial capabilities of Australians

ASIC has released the National Financial Literacy Strategy for consultation.

The National Financial Literacy Strategy is a framework to guide policies, program and activities that aim to strengthen Australians’ financial literacy and capability.

The five priorities in the National Strategy are:

  • Educate the next generation, particularly through the formal education system;
  • Increase the use of free, impartial information, tools and resources;
  • Provide quality targeted guidance and support;
  • Strengthen co-ordination and effective partnerships;
  • Improve research, measurement and evaluation.

A key feature of the National Strategy is collaboration across different sectors, including government agencies, community organisations, the education sector and financial services firms.  ASIC is leading a public consultation process to shape the National Strategy from 2018 and is seeking feedback on a number of issues including:

  • updating the language of the National Strategy from ‘financial literacy’ to ‘financial capability’ to reflect a growing focus on behaviours that support better financial outcomes;
  • expanding the priority audiences identified under the National Strategy, for example to include people with disability (and their families or carers) who are navigating choices and options under the National Disability Insurance Scheme, or people in newly arrived communities who are attempting to understand and access financial services;
  • broadening stakeholder reach and engagement with the National Strategy, including through the use of new technologies and;
  • improving research, measurement and evaluation.

‘Building financial capabilities requires a long-term commitment to lay the foundations for behavioural change over time.  We all confront significant financial decisions at key points in our lives, such as leaving school, having children, or reaching retirement.  To help people develop healthy financial habits and make better decisions about money we’re seeking feedback on the National Strategy’, said ASIC Deputy Chair Peter Kell.

‘I encourage people to share their views with us through this process.  Your input will help us shape a National Strategy that supports positive outcomes for individuals and communities now and into the future’, Mr Kell said.

ASIC invites feedback on the consultation paper from all interested stakeholders. Submissions are due by Friday 17 November 2017.

 

ASIC Stops More Pay Day Lenders

ASIC annouced today enforcable undertaking with Payday lenders Web Moneyline and Good to Go Loans, to cease using a loan product, called OACC2, following concerns raised by ASIC that the product may not have complied with the small amount credit contract provisions under the National Consumer Credit Protection Act 2009 (National Credit Act).

Both lenders are required to

  • write off all outstanding OACC2 loans including any outstanding debts which have arisen as a result of entering into these loans;
  • notify the relevant credit reporting body that these loans have been settled, in order to correct the affected consumers’ credit records; and
  • not enter into the OACC2 loan product with any new consumers.

Here are the ASIC releases:

Payday lender Web Moneyline has entered into an Enforceable Undertaking with ASIC to cease using a loan product following concerns raised by ASIC that the product may not have complied with the small amount credit contract provisions under the National Consumer Credit Protection Act 2009 (National Credit Act).

ASIC’s investigation identified that the loan product, called OACC2, was provided to consumers on terms which fell outside the definition of a small amount credit contract. However, on the same day consumers entered into an OACC2 loan, almost all of the OACC2 agreements were modified to repay the loan at higher regular repayment amounts over a shorter period of time, which may have exposed consumers to a higher risk of default. Web Moneyline may have charged above the cap on fees and charges had the loans been construed as small amount credit contracts as defined under the National Credit Act.

Under the Enforceable Undertaking , Web Moneyline is required to:

  • write off all outstanding OACC2 loans including any outstanding debts which have arisen as a result of entering into these loans;
  • notify the relevant credit reporting body that these loans have been settled, in order to correct the affected consumers’ credit records; and
  • not enter into the OACC2 loan product with any new consumers.

ASIC Deputy Chairman Peter Kell said, ‘Financially vulnerable consumers can be at particular risk from this sort of activity, and in many cases will have little real understanding of the greater risks of default they are being exposed to. ASIC will take action to protect those consumers from falling victim to unsuitable payday loans.’

All consumers with outstanding debts from OACC2 loans taken out between 21 August 2014 and 26 May 2015 are not required to make any more payments and will shortly receive communication from Web Moneyline confirming that their loan is now finalised.

Consumers who believe they may have entered into a loan contract with Web Moneyline (either in-store or online) that was unsuitable, are encouraged to lodge a complaint with the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) on 1800 367 287 or info@fos.org.au.  If you need help lodging a complaint with FOS, you can talk to a free and independent financial counsellor by ringing the National Debt Helpline on1800 007 007 during business hours. ASIC’s MoneySmart website has useful guidance on how payday loans work and alternative credit options.

 

Payday lender Good to Go Loans has entered into an Enforceable Undertaking with ASIC to cease using a loan product following concerns raised by ASIC that the product may not have complied with the small amount credit contract provisions under the National Consumer Credit Protection Act 2009 (National Credit Act).

ASIC’s investigation identified that the loan product, called OACC2, was provided to consumers on terms which fell outside the definition of a small amount credit contract. However, on the same day consumers entered into an OACC2 loan, almost all of the OACC2 agreements were modified to repay the loan at higher regular repayment amounts over a shorter period of time, which may have exposed consumers to a higher risk of default. Good to Go Loans may have charged above the cap on fees and charges had the loans been construed as small amount credit contracts as defined under the National Credit Act.

Under the Enforceable Undertaking, Good to Go Loans is required to:

  • write off all outstanding OACC2 loans including any outstanding debts which have arisen as a result of entering into these loans;
  • notify the relevant credit reporting body that these loans have been settled, in order to correct the affected consumers’ credit records; and
  • not enter into the OACC2 loan product with any new consumers.

ASIC Deputy Chairman Peter Kell said, ‘ASIC will continue to take action to protect financially vulnerable consumers, many of whom are recipients of welfare payments, from falling victim to unsuitable payday loans.’

All consumers with outstanding debts from OACC2 loans taken out between 18 May 2014 and 20 May 2015 are not required to make any more payments and will shortly receive communication from Good to Go Loans confirming that their loan is now finalised.

Consumers who believe they may have entered into a loan contract with Good to Go Loans (either in-store or online) that was unsuitable, are encouraged to lodge a complaint with the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) on 1800 367 287 or info@fos.org.au.  If you need help lodging a complaint with FOS, you can talk to a free and independent financial counsellor by ringing the National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007 during business hours. ASIC’s MoneySmart website has useful guidance on how payday loans work and alternative credit options

The Growing Gap Between Employment And Financial Security

The September update of the Digital Finance Analytics Household Finance Security Index, released today, underscores the growing gap between employment, which remains relatively strong, and the Financial Security of households.  We discussed this recently on ABC The Business. The Index fell from 98.6 in August to 97.5 in September.

This is below the 100 neutral setting, and continues the decline since December 2016.  Watch the video, or read the transcript.

The state by state view highlights a fall in NSW, while VIC holds higher, and there was a rise in WA from February 2017 lows. This highlights the fact the households across the national are under different levels of pressure.

Tracking by age bands we find younger households are significantly less confident, compared with those aged 50-60 years.  But across the board, the general trend is lower.

Property ownership remains a large factor, with those renting still below those owning property. We also see an ongoing decline in property investor confidence, thanks to tighter underwriting standards, higher mortgage rates, and the reduction in interest only loans availability.

Looking at the scorecard, there was a 4% fall in households comfortable with their savings, as they are forced to raid them to cover ongoing expenses (and the low returns on deposit balances as the banks seek to build margin).  There was a rise of nearly 3% of households who were uncomfortable with the amount of debt they hold, reflecting higher mortgage rates, especially on investment loans and interest only loans, and concerns about future rate movements. Finally, more households reported their overall net worth has deteriorated as home prices came under pressure.

The disconnect is that while people can, in the main, get some work, their earned income is not rising as fast as costs. We also find more households relying of a larger mix of fragmented part-time jobs, which tend to be less predictable.  As a result, we expect the current trends to continue, as momentum in the housing sector ebbs.  There is no obvious circuit breaker available in the current low interest rate, low growth environment.

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

We will update the results again next month.

UK Government Plans to Increase Social Housing Grants

From Moody’s

Last Wednesday, UK Prime Minister Theresa May announced that housing associations and local authorities will receive an additional £2 billion in grants for social (i.e., public) housing, including social rented homes. She also announced that rent increases will be set at CPI plus 1% starting in fiscal 2021 (which starts 1 April 2020) for five years. These announcements are credit positive for English housing associations because they signal greater support for the social rented sector.

Increased grant funding will reduce external financing needs and provide incentives to focus on social renting activities, which provide more stable cash flow than markets sales. The rent-setting regime provides clarity about housing associations’ operating environment and signals a shift from the previous government policy, which had negative financial effects on the sector.

The amount of grant funding available under the Affordable Homes programme for housing associations and local authorities will increase by £2 billion to £9.1 billion over the length of the program. Housing associations historically have relied on government grants to finance the production of new social homes, but such grants have significantly dwindled since the financial crisis.

The new grant programme aims to fund the construction of an additional 25,000 homes, and we expect the average subsidy per home to more than double to £80,000 from £32,600 in the last allocation round of the programme in 2016 and from £23,500 in the 2014 round. Although the distribution of the grants will depend on yet-to-be-defined criteria that determines which areas are most in need, we expect the 39 English housing associations that we rate to receive £650-£900 million of new grant funding, which would contribute to financing 8,000-11,250 homes.

The additional grants will reduce housing associations’ external financing needs, and should reduce future borrowing, which we currently expect will reach nearly £4 billion during fiscal 2018-20. However, some housing associations may choose to use the freed-up financial capacity to further increase their production of homes for open market sale rather than to stabilise indebtedness.

The grant programme signals a rebalancing of the government’s position in favour of rented social housing. The social letting business provides more stable cash flows for housing authorities than low-cost home ownership programmes, which had been at the centre of the previous housing policy. The lack of grants for building social rented homes and political pressure had encouraged housing associations to subsidise social homes by building units for open market sale that expose housing associations to the cyclicality of the housing market. The share of such sales to turnover has steadily increased over the past five years, reaching 15% in fiscal 2016 for our rated issuers and more than 40% for a small number of housing associations. Hence, this shift in the availability of funding and the direction of policy is credit positive.