US Fannie Mae to increase its debt-to-income (DTI) ceiling

From Moody’s

On 9 June, Fannie Mae announced that it would increase its debt-to-income (DTI) ceiling for mortgage borrowers to 50% from 45%, effective on 29 July. The increase is credit positive for US state housing finance agencies (HFAs) because it will make mortgage loans more attainable for first-time homebuyers, thereby supporting HFA loan originations, which have been driving HFAs’ profitability margin growth.

HFAs are charged with providing and increasing the supply of affordable housing in their respective states, specifically for first-time homebuyers. The DTI ratio is often the barrier to home ownership for first-time borrowers, so increasing the DTI ratio ceiling will increase mortgage approvals, thereby increasing the pool of borrowers who may opt for HFA loans.

Over the past five years, HFAs have more than tripled their single-family loan originations to $20.6 billion in 2016 from $6.5 billion in 2012. This has been one of the primary drivers of HFA profit margin growth, which reached an all-time high of 17% in fiscal 2015 (see exhibit).

One of the challenges that HFAs face is a shrinking supply of single-family affordable housing inventory, which hinders first-time homebuyers and hampers HFA loan originations. The increase in the DTI ratio limits will help offset these challenges by expanding the pool of borrowers eligible for mortgages as well as allowing some borrowers to buy somewhat more expensive homes. Additionally, we expect HFAs to continue to maintain their high level of originations, which will support their strong margins.

Although Fannie Mae’s increase in the DTI ratio will ease financial standards for potential first-time homebuyers by allowing applicants to carry additional debt, the HFAs will not bear the credit risk of these lower credit quality borrowers. Loans approved by Fannie Mae are either securitized or sold to Fannie Mae and loan payments are guaranteed by Fannie Mae regardless of the underlying performance of the mortgage.

CBA Tightens Mortgage Serviceability Requirements

From Australian Broker.

The Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) has announced a series of changes to its mortgage serviceability criteria and reporting standards.

From 10 June, the bank has changed its serviceability calculations for all new owner occupied/investment home loan or line of credit applications.

For those taking out a new mortgage who already have an existing CBA home loan, line of credit or business loan, the bank will assess the ability to pay through an interest rate buffer of 7.25% p.a. or the current interest rate plus 2.25% p.a. minus any existing rate concessions (whichever is higher).

For customers with an existing owner occupied/investment, line of credit or business loan with an external financial institution, CBA will apply a service loading of 30% to the current repayment amount.

The change brings CBA in line with the other majors.

Amendments have also been made regarding reporting standards with CBA now required to collect the following tax residency information from all customers:

  • The name of all countries where the individual is a tax resident
  • The Tax Identification Number (TIN) for countries other than Australia where the individual is a tax resident or a valid reason for not providing the TIN

These changes came into effect on 9 June and are included in the bank’s home loan on-boarding application form. CBA-accredited brokers can view a webinar that provides an overview of the associated alterations.

Finally, the bank has also released a fact sheet on repayments and customer scenarios to help brokers explain the difference between P&I and IO mortgages and why P&I repayments benefit mortgage holders.

“As Australia’s largest lender, Commonwealth Bank is committed to consistently delivering the best customer experience for home buyers, as well as meeting our responsible lending obligations,” a bank spokesperson told Australian Broker. “As a responsible lender, we constantly review our products and services to ensure we are maintaining our prudent lending standards and meeting our customers’ needs both now and in the future.”

Westpac Tightens Mortgage Lending Policy

Westpac has joined the bandwagon as from 5 June, the bank will reduce the maximum LVR on new and existing interest only lending to 80%. This change will apply across the board to owner occupier and residential investment loans, equity access loans and special borrower packages such as Medico, Industry Specialisation Policy, Sports and Entertainment, and Accounting, Law and Executive Sector loans.

Westpac will also no longer accept new standalone refinance applications for owner occupier interest only home loans from an external provider, effective from 5 June. Internal refinancing for owner occupiers will still be permitted for interest only loans, subject to maximum LVR requirements and customer suitability.

Principal and interest as well as residential investment interest only refinancing will not be affected.

Westpac will continue to waive the repayment switch fee for those wishing to move from interest only to principal and interest repayments. Premier Advantage Package customers can switch at any time with no additional costs. For fixed loans however, certain break costs may apply.

Westpac said in a note to brokers:

“We are committed to meeting our regulatory requirements, and ensuring we are lending responsibly and in the best interests of our customers. We regularly review our polices and processes based on a number of factors such as the impact of regulatory requirements and the economic environment,”

“These changes will help us continue to meet our regulatory requirements and apply responsible lending practices in assessing a customer’s ability to service existing and proposed debts.”

Non major eases lending policy for FHBs

From Australian Broker.

Teachers Mutual Bank (TMB) and its divisions UniBank and Firefighters Mutual Bank have announced softer lending policy guidelines for first home buyers.

Effective from 18 May, the lender has made changes with regards to genuine savings requirements which reflect recent policy changes by Genworth, the bank’s LMI provider.

“Where deposit funds/savings have not been held for the minimum term of three months and satisfactory rental payment history is used to mitigate the genuine savings requirement, the First Home Owner Grant (FHOG) may be accepted to contribute to the 5% savings/deposit requirement,” the bank said in a broker note.

This follows from new underwriting guidelines from Genworth, effective from 16 May, which include the FHOG as an acceptable source if true ‘genuine savings’ cannot be found. All funds required to complete the loan application – deposits plus settlement disbursements minus the grant – must be shown at time of the mortgage application.

Genworth’s new conditions place responsibility on the lender to ensure the borrower is eligible to receive a FHOG at the time of the application.

“We are pleased that the changes proposed will further support first homebuyers realise their dream of homeownership,” TMB said.

ANZ tightens interest only lending portfolio

From Australian Broker.

ANZ has announced changes to its interest only loans in compliance with government efforts to reduce banks’ exposure to this type of asset.

The bank announced that effective May 29, the maximum interest only period will be reduced from 10 years to five years to allow “investment lending to align to the maximum for owner occupier lending.”

According to an announcement on the company website, this new provision will apply to all ANZ home loan and residential investment loan products.

It will also waive the renegotiation fee for customers who want to shift their interest only to principal and interest repayments, applicable to the same above mentioned products.

Meanwhile, the bank will apply a minimum rental or board expense of $375 per month to residential investment loans to borrowers who are not currently occupying their own homes. The fee will be charged to residential investment loan products and equity manager accounts, the bank said in its announcement.

Changes to ANZ’s loan provisions is in keeping with the regulatory initiatives geared towards bringing down banks’ exposure to interest only loans to 30%, according to a report on news.com.au.

The report also said that the bank will “crack down on customers failing to chip into their principal and also hit those with loan to value ratios higher than 80%”

The Affordability Conundrum

We have highlighted the rise in mortgage stress. We identified rising mortgage rates, underemployment, higher costs of living and flat incomes as causes of stress. But we need to stop and ask how come more households are under mortgage pressure than ever?

After all, lenders should have been operating with at least a 2.5% buffer between the mortgage rate offered and the rate they use for affordability assessment, and they should be looking at the household spending to ensure they can afford the loan. Failure to do this would make the loan “unsuitable” and under the lending provisions if loans were not made in compliance with the responsible lending provisions, the borrower can dispute the loan.

Mortgage stress should just not be as high as it is these guidelines were followed. Whilst interest rates have moved from their lows, thanks to out of cycle rises, (which in sum for owner occupied borrowers amount to around 30-40 basis points, whereas interest only loans, and investor loans are now 75-100 basis points) are still well within the 2.5% mortgage affordability rate buffer.

To try and unpick this, we have been looking at real household expenditure budgets from our core market model (using our surveys and other data), and comparing this with the standard Household Expenditure Measure (HEM) used by the banks.

HEM is based on more than 600 items in the ABS Household Expenditure Survey (HES). The HEM is calculated as the median spend on absolute basics (food, utilities, transport, communications, kids’ clothing) and the 25th percentile spend on discretionary basics, which includes expenses like alcohol, eating out and childcare. Non-basic expenses, for example overseas holidays, are excluded from calculations.

The National Consumer Credit Protection Act regulations say that whilst banks may use a HEM to guide the analysis, they must still do more complete analysis and validate the expenditure profile by looking at statements and other evidence. Relying on HEM is not sufficient.

Whats interesting about this is that APRA said last year:

On the expense side, the major differences across ADIs seen in the original exercise related to whether the ADI used a benchmark living expenses measures, such as the Household Expenditure Measure (HEM), the customer’s own reported expenses, or a more targeted calculation of the benchmark.   Most people have a hard time actually estimating their own living expenses, so the customer-declared figure may not be particularly accurate. However, the basic benchmark measures are also simplistic; scaling expense assumptions to the borrower’s income level (and potentially other factors including geography) is a more realistic and prudent approach.

About half of the ADIs in our exercise were still using the basic HEM, but others have moved to implement more sophisticated approaches or are in the process of doing so. At a minimum, all ADIs now reflect the customer’s declared living expenses where these are higher than the benchmark.

A strong alignment between the HEM calculation and the final expenses assessment might be a warning of expenses being understated.

Regulators said recently that there was often a “coincidental” alignment between HEM and actual costs, especially for more affluent purchasers.

So we obtained some HEM data for a typical household in our survey, and compared the HEM output with the data on real expenditure, using the same basis of calculation as HEM.

We found that in all states except SA, the standard HEM understated household expenditure significantly, net of mortgage payments, many were more than 10% higher. ACT, WA and NSW had the highest divergence. So did lenders make sufficient allowance to actual spending in the current low growth, higher cost of living environment?

If not, or if HEM had been used, households might have obtained a larger mortgage than could comfortably be serviced.

So, we need to ask – why the variation between HEM and reality? We suggest it may be a combination of:

  1. Households incomes being squeezed as costs rise and underemployment rises (households are not generally reassessed in flight by the banks)
  2. Banks were too generous in their initial affordability assessments and did not take actual spending sufficiently into account.
  3. Households did not fully disclose costs and banks did not fully check them out. HEM became the default.

Finally, we also looked across our household segments, and found that (no surprise) expenses of more affluent households were significant higher.

This helps to explain why we are seeing more affluent households getting into mortgage stress territory.

Should banks be obliged to review household spending patterns on a recurring basis, rather than at mortgage underwriting time? Is there  merit in the regulators looking in more detail at the extent to which all lenders (including non-banks) are compliant. We suspect some lenders have been too willing to operate on lower spending buffers to enable a deal to be done.

Borrowers of course should not borrow just because the bank says they are willing to lend to a certain level. Households should prepare their own budgets and include allowance for higher mortgage rates and rising living costs. They may get a smaller loan as a result, but they will be more secure in a rising market.

Our industry contacts suggest that many lenders are reviewing their spending assessment, and that more details and granular information is now been used. However, this may nor help those who got bigger loans in easier conditions as affordability bites.

ASIC announces further measures to promote responsible lending in the home loan sector

ASIC today announced a targeted industry surveillance to examine whether lenders and mortgage brokers are inappropriately recommending more expensive interest-only loans. With many lenders, including major lenders, charging higher interest rates for interest-only loans compared with principal-and-interest loans, lenders and brokers must ensure that consumers are not provided with unsuitable interest-only loans.

Building on earlier work on home lending standards, ASIC is also announcing that eight major lenders will provide remediation to consumers who suffer financial difficulty as a result of shortcomings in past lending practices.

Interest-only loans

ASIC will shortly commence a surveillance to identify lenders and mortgage brokers who are recommending high numbers of more expensive interest-only loans. Data will be gathered using ASIC’s compulsory information-gathering powers from large banks, other banks, mutual banks and non-bank lenders.

In an environment where many interest-only loans are now clearly more expensive than principal-and-interest loans, lenders and mortgage brokers must carefully consider the implications of providing borrowers with interest-only loans. While interest-only loans may be a reasonable option for some borrowers, for the vast majority of owner-occupiers in particular, an interest-only loan will not make sense.

Past lending practices

In 2015, ASIC conducted a review of how lenders provide interest-only home loans. ASIC found that lenders were not properly inquiring into a consumer’s actual living expenses when assessing their capacity to make repayments. ASIC’s review led to industry-wide improvements by lenders: see 15-220MR Lenders to improve standards following interest-only loan review.

As part of today’s announcement, eight lenders examined by ASIC have improved their practices for enquiring about expenses to determine the consumer’s financial situation and capacity to make repayments. Rather than obtaining a single monthly living expense figure and then relying on a benchmark figure to assess suitability, borrowers’ actual figures for different categories of living expenses (e.g. food, transport, insurance, entertainment) will now be obtained. This will provide lenders with a better understanding of consumers’ expenses.

In addition to typical hardship processes, lenders will individually review cases where consumers suffer financial difficulty in repaying their home loans, and determine whether they have been impacted by shortcomings in past lending practices. Where appropriate, consumers will be provided with tailored remediation, which may include refunds of fees or interest.

As interest rates are currently at record lows, and were falling in the lead up to 2015 and during 2016, ASIC does not expect lenders to identify high numbers of consumers who are now experiencing financial difficulty due to past lending decisions. Nevertheless, these additional actions will ensure that consumers are not disadvantaged.

To ensure that these remediation programs are operating effectively, ASIC is requiring lenders to audit their processes.

ASIC Deputy Chairman Peter Kell said, ‘Home loans are the biggest financial commitment most people will ever make. In assessing whether borrowers can meet loan repayments without substantial hardship in the short and longer term, it is important that lenders can collect and rely on information which provides an accurate view of the consumer’s financial situation. This is especially the case when interest rates are at record low levels’.

‘Lenders and mortgage brokers must also ensure that consumers are being provided with the home loan product that meets their needs. Lenders and mortgage brokers need to think twice before recommending that a consumer obtain a more expensive interest-only loan’.

Background

In 2015, ASIC reviewed interest-only loans provided by 11 home lenders, and issued REP 445 Review of interest-only home loans (Refer: REP 445) in 2015, which made a number of recommendations for home lenders to comply with their responsible lending obligations (Refer:15-297MR).

In REP 445, ASIC gave guidance on how lenders can make proper inquiries into a borrower’s actual expenses.

ASIC’s monitoring of lenders’ home lending practices continues. ASIC will carry out further reviews to ensure that industry standards are improved where necessary. ASIC will also take enforcement action as appropriate.

Any consumer with concerns about their ability to make home loan repayments should contact their lender in the first instance. Consumers can also access free external dispute resolution, through either the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) or Credit and Investments Ombudsman (CIO).

The eight lenders are:

  • Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Limited
  • Bendigo and Adelaide Bank Limited
  • Commonwealth Bank of Australia
  • Firstmac Limited
  • ING Bank (Australia) Limited
  • Macquarie Bank Limited
  • National Australia Bank Limited
  • Pepper Group Limited.

ASIC has also provided guidance to industry in Regulatory Guide 209 Credit licensing: Responsible lending conduct (Refer: RG 209).

Responsible lending is a key priority for ASIC in its regulation of the consumer credit industry. The changes made by the eight reviewed lenders continue a number of developments and outcomes involving responsible lending:

  • Treasury releases ASIC’s Review of Mortgage Broker Remuneration.
  • ASIC filed civil penalty proceedings against Westpac in the Federal Court on 1 March 2017 for alleged breaches of the National Consumer Credit Protection Act 2009 (refer: 17-048MR).
  • Cairns-based car yard lender, Channic Pty Ltd, and broker, Cash Brokers Pty Ltd, breached consumer credit laws (refer: 16-335MR). Part of the court’s judgement was that the broker did not meet all of the necessary responsible lending obligations before providing credit assistance because he did not consider the borrower’s insurance expenses, which was required under the credit contract and represented a significant portion of the borrower’s income.
  • ANZ paid a $212,500 penalty for breaching responsible lending laws when offering overdrafts (refer: 16-063MR).
  • Payday lender Nimble to refund $1.5 million following ASIC probe (Refer: 16-089MR).
  • BMW Finance pays $391,000 penalty for breaching responsible lending and repossession laws  (refer: 16-019MR).
  • Westpac pays $1 million following ASIC’s concerns about credit card limit increase practices (refer: 16-009MR).
  • Bank of Queensland Limited improved its lending practices following ASIC’s concerns about the way it assessed applications for home loans (Refer: 15-125MR).
  • The Cash Store Pty Ltd and Assistive Finance Australia Pty Ltd failed to comply with their responsible lending obligations. The Federal Court awarded record civil penalties (refer: 15-032MR).
  • Wide Bay Australia Ltd (now Auswide Bank Ltd) made changes to their responsible lending policy as a result of ASIC’s intervention (refer: 15-013MR).

ASIC commences civil penalty proceedings against Westpac for breaching home-loan responsible lending laws

This is a big deal. Westpac is the largest investment mortgage lender, and it  highlights the need for “microprudential” analysis of loans. But in 2011 other lenders were doing the same. The question of interest only repayments is certainly a live issue.

ASIC says it has today commenced civil penalty proceedings in the Federal Court against Westpac Banking Corporation (Westpac) for a number of contraventions of the responsible lending provisions of National Consumer Credit Protection Act 2009 (Cth) (the National Credit Act).

ASIC alleges that in the period between December 2011 and March 2015 Westpac failed to properly assess whether borrowers could meet their repayment obligations before entering into home loan contracts.

Specifically, ASIC alleges that Westpac:

  • used a benchmark instead of the actual expenses declared by borrowers in assessing their ability to repay the loan
  • approved loans where a proper assessment of a borrower’s ability to repay the loan would have shown a monthly deficit
  • for home loans with an interest-only period, Westpac failed to have regard to the higher repayments at the end of the interest-only period when assessing the borrowers’ ability to repay.

The National Credit Act provides consumer protections to ensure that credit providers make reasonable inquiries about a borrower’s financial situation and assess whether a loan contract will be unsuitable for the borrowers.

The first hearing for the proceedings will be on 21 March 2017 at 9.30am in the Federal Court in Sydney.

ASIC will be making no further comment at this time.

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Background

The proceedings follow ASIC’s review of interest-only home loans (REP 445) in which ASIC reviewed the responsible lending practices of 11 lenders (refer: 15-220MR).

The Rise of Microprudential

APRA’s revised mortgage guidance released yesterday, on the surface may look benign but if you look at the detail there are a number of changes which together do change the game in terms of risk analysis during underwriting, and through the life of the mortgage. We think this will slow credit growth through 2017 and beyond.

We suggest this is imposing significant micro-management on the portfolio, which will force some lenders to change their current practices.

Investment Property Underwriting Tightened.

APRA says a minimum haircut of 20% on expected rental income, and larger discounts on properties where there is a higher risk of non-occupancy should be applied. They also need to taking into account a borrower’s investment property-related fees and expenses. Also, APRA highlights that an ADI should ideally “place no reliance on a borrower’s potential ability to access future tax benefits from operating a rental property at a loss”, but if an ADI chooses to do so, it “would be prudent to assess it at the current interest rate rather than one with a buffer applied”.

Serviceability Tests Strengthened

APRA reaffirmed the interest rate buffer of at least 2% and minimum lending floor rate of at least 7% for mortgages. But now APRA says ADIs should apply these buffers a borrower’s new and existing debt commitments. To do this, banks will need to have more detailed knowledge of a borrower’s existing debt commitments and history of  delinquency.

Expenses Assessment Tightened

APRA wants ADIs to use the greater of a borrower’s declared living expenses or an appropriately income scaled version of the Household Expenditure Measure (HEM) or Henderson Poverty Index (HPI). They cannot rely fully on HEM or HPI to assess living expenses. They suggest expenses should be more correlated to income.

Income Assessment Tightened

APRA says banks should apply discounts of at least 20% (instead of being calculated at the ADIs’ discretion) to be applied to most types of non-salary income (rental income on investment properties, bonuses, child benefits etc.). A larger discount should sometimes be used where income is more variable over time – “an ADI may choose to use the lowest documented value of such income over the last several years, or apply a 20 per cent discount to the average amount received over a similar period”.

Interest Only Loans More Restricted

APRA expects interest-only periods offered on residential mortgage loans to be of limited duration, particularly for owner-occupiers. Interest-only loans may carry higher credit risk in some cases, and may not be appropriate for all borrowers. This should be reflected in the ADI’s risk management framework, including its risk appetite statement, and also in the ADI’s responsible lending compliance program. APRA expects that an ADI would only approve interest-only loans for owner-occupiers where there is a sound and documented economic basis for such an arrangement and not based on inability to service a loan on a principal and interest basis.

SMSF Property Loans Require More Examination

The nature of loans to SMSFs gives rise to unique operational, legal and reputational risks that differ from those of a traditional mortgage loan. Legal recourse in the event of default may differ from a standard mortgage, even with guarantees in place from other parties. Customer objectives and suitability may be more difficult to determine. In performing a serviceability assessment, ADIs would need to consider what regular income, subject to haircuts as discussed above, is available to service the loan and what expenses should be reflected in addition to the loan servicing. APRA expects that a prudent ADI would identify the additional risks relevant to this type of lending and implement loan application assessment processes and criteria that adequately reflect these risks.

LVR Is Not A Good Risk Indicator

Although mortgage lending risk cannot be fully mitigated through conservative LVRs, prudent LVR limits help to minimise the risk that the property serving as collateral will be insufficient to cover any repayment shortfall. Consequently, prudent LVR limits serve as an important element of portfolio risk management. APRA emphasises, however, that loan origination policies would not be expected to be solely reliant on LVR as a risk-mitigating mechanism.

Genuine Savings To Be Tested

ADIs typically require a borrower to provide an initial deposit primarily drawn from the borrower’s own funds. Imposing a minimum ‘genuine savings’ requirement as part of this initial deposit is considered an important means of reducing default risk. A prudent ADI would have limited appetite for taking into account non-genuine savings, such as gifts from a family member. In such cases, it would be prudent for an ADI to take all reasonable steps to determine whether non-genuine savings are to be repaid by the borrower and, if so, to incorporate these repayments in the serviceability assessment.

Granular and Ongoing Portfolio Management Required

Where residential mortgage lending forms a material proportion of an ADI’s lending portfolio and therefore represents a risk that may have a material impact on the ADI, the accepted level of credit risk would be expected to specifically address the risk in the residential mortgage portfolio. Further, in order to assist senior management and lending staff to operate within the accepted level of credit risk, quantifiable risk limits would be set for various aspects of the residential mortgage portfolio.

A robust management information system would be able to provide good quality information on residential mortgage lending risks. This would typically include:

a) the composition and quality of the residential mortgage lending portfolio, e.g. by type of customer (first home buyer, owner-occupied, investment etc), product line, distribution channel, loan vintage, geographic concentration, LVR bands at origination, loans on the watch list and impaired;
b) portfolio performance reporting, including trend analysis, peer comparisons where possible, other risk-adjusted profitability and economic capital measures and results from stress tests;
c) compliance against risk limits and trigger levels at which action is required;
d) reports on broker relationships and performance;
e) exception reporting including overrides, key drivers for overrides and delinquency performance for loans approved by override;
f) reports on loan breaches and other issues arising from annual reviews;
g) prepayment rates and mortgage prepayment buffers;
h) serviceability buffers including trends, performance, recent changes to buffers and adjustments and rationale for changes;
i) missed payments, hardship concessions and restructurings, cure rates and 30-, 60- and 90-days arrears levels across, for example, different segments of the portfolio, loan vintage, geographic region, borrower type, distribution channel and product type;
j) changes to valuation methodologies, types and location of collateral held and analysis relating to any current or expected changes in collateral values;
k) findings from valuer reviews or other hindsight reviews undertaken by the ADI;
l) reporting against key metrics to measure collections performance;
m) tracking of loans insured by LMI providers, including claims made and adverse findings by such providers;
n) provisioning trends and write-offs;
o) internal and external audit findings and tracking of unresolved issues and closure;
p) issues of contention with third-parties including service providers, valuation firms, etc; and
q) risk drivers and other components that form part of scorecard or models used for loan origination as well as risk indicators for new lending.

When setting risk limits for the residential mortgage portfolio, a prudent ADI would consider the following areas:

a) loans with differing risk profiles (e.g. interest-only loans, owner-occupied, investment property, reverse mortgages, home equity lines-of-credit (HELOCs), foreign currency loans and loans with non-standard/alternative documentation);
b) loans originated through various channels (e.g. mobile lenders, brokers, branches and online);
c) geographic concentrations;
d) serviceability criteria (e.g. limits on loan size relative to income, (stressed) mortgage repayments to income, net income surplus and other debt servicing measures);
e) loan-to-valuation ratios (LVRs), including limits on high LVR loans for new originations and for the overall portfolio;
f) use of lenders mortgage insurance (LMI) and associated concentration risks;
g) special circumstance loans, such as reliance on guarantors, loans to retired or soon-to–be-retired persons, loans to non-residents, loans with non-typical features such as trusts or self-managed superannuation funds (SMSFs);
h) frequency and types of overrides to lending policies, guidelines and loan origination standards;
i) maximum expected or tolerable portfolio default, arrears and write-off rates; and
j) non-lending losses such as operational breakdowns or adverse reputational events related to consumer lending practices.

Good practice would be for the risk management framework to clearly specify whether particular risk limits are ‘hard’ limits, where any breach is escalated for action as soon as practicable, or ‘soft’ limits, where occasional or temporary breaches are tolerated.

 

APRA Updates Mortgage Lending Practices

APRA has updated the mortgage lending guidance, to include more specific guidance on gifts for deposits, off-the-plan lending, allowance for vacant periods on rental proprieties, allowance for irregular income and confirmation of interest rate floor and buffers. There are also important comments relating to brokers, portfolio analysis and management responsibility. For example, banks will need to have ongoing awareness of households finances, rather than making a point-in-time, set-and-forget assessment. Whilst they say these changes are not material, in practice they are significant, and it suggests a more detailed “micro” analytical approach to lending scrutiny, rather than generic portfolio analytics. This is important and will impact. We think the costs of managing a mortgage portfolio just went up!

The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) has updated its expectations for sound residential mortgage lending practices for authorised deposit-taking institutions (ADIs) following consultation with industry and other stakeholders.

APRA released for consultation a revised draft of Prudential Practice Guide APG 223 Residential Mortgage Lending in October 2016 to incorporate measures previously announced by APRA in 2014 or communicated to ADIs since that time.

The revisions to APG 223 are designed to ensure that the sound lending practices that have been implemented across the industry since late 2014 are maintained and reinforced.

As a result of the consultation, APRA has made a small number of refinements to the prudential practice guide, which are explained in a letter to ADIs released today. APRA does not expect these refinements to result in material changes to existing lending practices across the industry as a whole.

APRA is continuing to maintain its close monitoring and supervision of residential mortgage lending practices, including growth in investor lending, as part of its broader mandate to build resilience in the financial sector and promote financial system stability.

There are a few important comments which may trouble some lenders. For example:

Where residential mortgage lending forms a material proportion of an ADI’s lending portfolio and therefore represents a risk that may have a material impact on the ADI, the accepted level of credit risk would be expected to specifically address the risk in the residential mortgage portfolio.

In order to establish robust oversight, the Board and senior management would receive regular, concise and meaningful assessment of actual risks relative to the ADI’s risk appetite and of the operation and effectiveness of internal controls. The information would be provided in a timely manner to facilitate early corrective action.

A robust management information system would be able to provide good quality information on residential mortgage lending risks.

In Australia, it is standard market practice to pay brokers either an upfront commission or a trailing commission, or both. A prudent approach to the use of third parties for residential mortgage lending would include appropriate measures to ensure that commission-based compensation does not create adverse incentives.

When an ADI is increasing its residential mortgage lending rapidly or at a rate materially faster than its competitors, either across the portfolio or in particular segments or geographical areas, a prudent Board would seek explanation as to why this is the case.

Where an ADI uses different serviceability criteria for different products or across different ‘brands’, APRA expects the ADI to be able to articulate and be aware of commercial and other reasons for these differences, and any implications for the ADI’s risk profile and risk appetite.

Good practice would apply a buffer over the loan’s interest rate to assess the serviceability of the borrower (interest rate buffer). This approach would seek to ensure that potential increases in interest rates do not adversely impact on a borrower’s capacity to repay a loan. The buffer would reflect the potential for interest rates to change over several years. APRA expects that ADI serviceability policies should incorporate an interest rate buffer of at least two percentage points. A prudent ADI would use a buffer comfortably above this level.

In addition, a prudent ADI would use the interest rate buffer in conjunction with an interest rate floor, to ensure that the interest rate buffer used is adequate when the ADI is operating in a low interest rate environment. Prudent serviceability policies should incorporate a minimum floor assessment interest rate of at least seven per cent. Again, a prudent ADI would implement a minimum floor rate comfortably above this level.

When assessing a borrower’s income, a prudent ADI would discount or disregard temporarily high or uncertain income. Similarly, it would apply appropriate adjustments when assessing seasonal or variable income sources. For example, significant discounts are generally applied to reported bonuses, overtime, rental income on investment properties, other types of investment income and variable commissions; in some cases, they may be applied to child support or other social security payments, pensions and superannuation income. Prudent practice is to apply discounts of at least 20 per cent on most types of non-salary income; in some cases, a higher discount would be appropriate. In some circumstances, an ADI may choose to use the lowest documented value of such income over the last several years, or apply a 20 per cent discount to the average amount received over a similar period.

In APRA’s view, prudent serviceability policies incorporate a minimum haircut of 20 per cent on expected rental income, with larger haircuts appropriate for properties where there is a higher risk of non-occupancy.

Good practice would be for an ADI to place no reliance on a borrower’s potential ability to access future tax benefits from operating a rental property at a loss. Where an ADI chooses to include such a tax benefit, it would be prudent to assess it at the current interest rate rather than one with a buffer applied.

Good practice would be for an ADI, rather than a third party, to perform income verification

Some ADIs use rules-based scorecards or quantitative models in the residential mortgage loan evaluation process. In such cases, good practice would include close oversight and governance of the credit scoring processes. Where decisions suggested by a scorecard are overridden, it is good practice to document the reasons for the override.

Interest-only loans may carry higher credit risk in some cases, and may not be appropriate for all borrowers. This should be reflected in the ADI’s risk management framework, including its risk appetite statement, and also in the ADI’s responsible lending compliance program. APRA expects that an ADI would only approve interest-only loans for owner-occupiers where there is a sound and documented economic basis for such an arrangement and not based on inability to service a loan on a principal and interest basis. APRA expects interest-only periods offered on residential mortgage loans to be of limited duration, particularly for owner-occupiers.

The nature of loans to SMSFs gives rise to unique operational, legal and reputational risks that differ from those of a traditional mortgage loan. Legal recourse in the event of default may differ from a standard mortgage, even with guarantees in place from other parties. Customer objectives and suitability may be more difficult to determine. In performing a serviceability assessment, ADIs would need to consider what regular income, subject to haircuts as discussed above, is available to service the loan and what expenses should be reflected in addition to the loan servicing. APRA expects that a prudent ADI would identify the additional risks relevant to this type of lending and implement loan application assessment processes and criteria that adequately reflect these risks.

Although mortgage lending risk cannot be fully mitigated through conservative LVRs, prudent LVR limits help to minimise the risk that the property serving as collateral will be insufficient to cover any repayment shortfall. Consequently, prudent LVR limits serve as an important element of portfolio risk management. APRA emphasises, however, that loan origination policies would not be expected to be solely reliant on LVR as a risk-mitigating mechanism.

ADIs typically require a borrower to provide an initial deposit primarily drawn from the borrower’s own funds. Imposing a minimum ‘genuine savings’ requirement as part of this initial deposit is considered an important means of reducing default risk. A prudent ADI would have limited appetite for taking into account non-genuine savings, such as gifts from a family member. In such cases, it would be prudent for an ADI to take all reasonable steps to determine whether non-genuine savings are to be repaid by the borrower and, if so, to incorporate these repayments in the serviceability assessment.

In the case of valuation of off-the-plan sales, developer prices might not represent a sustainable resale value. Consequently, in such circumstances, a prudent ADI would make appropriate reductions in the off-the-plan prices in determining LVRs or seek independent professional valuations.

A prudent ADI would regularly stress test its residential mortgage lending portfolio under a range of scenarios. Scenarios used for stress testing would include severe but plausible adverse conditions

LMI is not an alternative to loan origination due diligence. A prudent ADI would, notwithstanding the presence of LMI coverage, conduct its own due diligence, including comprehensive and independent assessment of a borrower’s capacity to repay, verification of minimum initial equity by borrowers, reasonable debt service coverage, and assessment of the value of the property.