Australian regulators watch as soaring mortgages drive up prices

July 28, 2014

You may read the article here or click on the link below to go the full site.

Read more:

Household debt is at a 25-year high, but regulators say risky loans haven't increased significantly.

Household debt is at a 25-year high, but regulators say risky loans haven’t increased significantly.

Central banks from Scandinavia to the UK to New Zealand are sounding the alarm about soaring mortgage debt and trying to curb risky lending. Here in Australia, where borrowing is surging, regulators are just watching.

Australian household debt is at a 25-year high, according to statistics bureau figures, and a government inquiry this month found housing to be a significant source of risk to the financial system. The average mortgage is at least four times household income in almost 80 per cent of the country, research by Digital Finance Analytics shows.

While the UK, Denmark and New Zealand introduce measures including loan limits, caps on interest-only mortgages and repayment tests, the Reserve Bank and the country’s banking regulator are holding their fire, saying risky loans haven’t increased significantly. The central bank also has said the price gains so far are spurring needed construction, easing housing shortages in some areas.

Household debt is at a 25-year high, but regulators say risky loans haven't increased significantly.
Household debt is at a 25-year high, but regulators say risky loans haven’t increased significantly. Photo: Virginia Star

“If we think there is a need for higher construction, which we do, an environment of declining prices is probably not conducive to that outcome,” RBA Governor Glenn Stevens said in a speech in Hobart earlier this month. “Some pick-up in housing prices as a result of lower interest rates was to be expected.”


Overvalued Housing 

Australia has the third-most overvalued housing market on a price-to-income basis, after Belgium and Canada, according to the International Monetary Fund. The average home price in the nation’s eight major cities rose 16 per cent as of June 30 from a May 2012 trough, the RP Data-Rismark Home Value Index showed.

In Sydney, where price growth has been strongest, home values soared 15 per cent over the past 12 months. That compares with a 5.4 per cent increase in New York City in April from a year earlier and a 26 per cent jump in London prices in June quarter from a year ago.

“There’s definitely room for caps on lending,” said Martin North, principal at researcher Digital Finance Analytics. “Global house price indices are all showing Australia is close to the top, and the RBA has been too myopic in adjusting to what’s been going on in the housing market.”

Residential Construction

Our regulators are hesitant to impose nation-wide rules as only some markets have seen strong price growth, said Kieran Davies, chief economist at Barclays in Sydney.

Home values in cities including Adelaide, Hobart and Canberra rose less than 3 per cent over the year to June 30, and house prices in areas outside the major cities gained less than 4 per cent in the 12 months to May, according to RP Data.

The central bank has reduced its benchmark interest rate to a record-low 2.5 per cent to aid a recovery in non-mining industries, including residential construction, as the resources boom slows.

The interest rate cuts and subsequent home price gains have helped building approvals climb 14 per cent in May from a year earlier, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Necessary Evil

“The RBA’s probably got at the back of its mind that we’re only in the early stages of the adjustment in the mining sector,” Davies said. “Mining investment still has a long way to fall, and also the job losses to flow from that. So to some extent, the house price growth is a necessary evil.”

The central bank in its quarterly monetary policy update called declining resources investment a “significant headwind,” for the economy.

As prices climb, the value of new mortgages also rose 16 per cent in May from a year ago, and overall housing credit increased 6 per cent in the quarter ended March 31 from 12 months earlier, statistics bureau data show. The average new home loan grew 6.7 per cent to $433,960 in June from a year ago, according to broker Australian Finance Group, which processes about $4 billion in home loans every month.

The increase in new mortgages, while significant, doesn’t appear “imprudent,” Stevens said in his speech in Hobart. With total credit growth only slightly above the increase in incomes, “it’s hard to mount the soap box to complain about that pace,” he said.

Low Rates

Spurring the rise in loans are the lowest mortgage rates in almost five years, after the RBA cut the cash rate by 2.25 percentage points since late 2011. The average rate on variable mortgages, which about 85 per cent of Australians borrowers are on, is 5.95 per cent, the lowest since September 2009.

Fixed rates are also on their way down. The Commonwealth Bank, National Australia Bank and Westpac last week cut their five-year fixed rates to 4.99 per cent, a record low for CBA, the least in 20 years for NAB, and a five-year low for Westpac. Australia and New Zealand Banking Group. reduced its five-year fixed rate by 30 basis points to 5.49 per cent.

Rising Debt

Stevens this month urged investors in Sydney to be cautious, after loans to buy rental properties in New South Wales surged 30 per cent to a record $5.2 billion in May from a year ago, doubling from February 2013, according to statistics bureau data. He also warned that loans to investors covering more than 80 per cent of a property’s value have been climbing.

Australians owed almost 1.8 times their 2013 pretax disposable incomes, higher than Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US, the statistics bureau said in a report last month. Household debt was equivalent to $79,000 per person at the end of 2013, and has risen at almost double the pace of assets over the past 25 years, it said.

Government Inquiry

Since 1997, when Australia held its last major financial system inquiry, household debt has almost doubled as a proportion of income, with more than 90 per cent of that due to housing, the government inquiry found. Mortgages account for two-thirds of banks’ loan books, from 47 per cent in 1997, it said.

“A large enough disruption to the housing market could have significant implications for household balance sheets, financial stability, economic growth, and the speed of recovery in household spending and broader economic activity following a shock,” the inquiry’s report said.

New Zealand’s central bank last year required loans for more than 80 per cent of a property’s value to account for less than 10 per cent of a bank’s new lending. In response, home sales fell 11 per cent between October and March.

Global Measures

The Bank of England last month proposed capping mortgages of 4.5 times a borrower’s income at no more than 15 per cent of a lender’s new home loans, and required banks to reject those who fail a new repayment test. Governor Mark Carney in May called surging home prices the No. 1 risk to the economy, and Deputy Governor Jon Cunliffe this month warned low borrowing costs hide the real extent of Britons’ mortgage burden.

Denmark’s central bank is pushing to require interest-only loans to be no more than 60 per cent of a property’s value, from 80 per cent. In Sweden, lenders are in talks to require borrowers to cut mortgage debt to less than 70 per cent of home values, and have capped borrowing at five times household income.

‘More Stretched’

Across Australia, the average mortgage is at least four times pretax annual income in more than 2200 postal codes out of a total 2800, according to Digital Finance Analytics. Loan- to-income ratios are spread between 2.5 times and 8 times, compared with 0 and 6 times in the UK, the data show.

“So the loan-to-income ratio in Australia is more stretched than in the UK,” DFA’s North said.

The RBA, in response to an e-mailed request for comment, referred to speeches and papers by Head of Financial Stability Luci Ellis.

The Australian Prudential Regulatory Authority, which oversees banks, in May issued draft guidelines urging lenders to conduct mortgage book stress tests, ensure brokers’ compensation doesn’t encourage risky lending and ascertain borrowers can repay loans, especially when rates rise.

“APRA is seeing increasing evidence of lending with higher risk characteristics and it does not want this trend to continue,” the regulator’s former chairman, John Laker, said in a statement then.

Requests to large lenders’ boards for explanations on how they’re monitoring risk have already led to more prudent standards, APRA Chairman Wayne Byres told a parliamentary hearing on July 18. Andrew McCutcheon, a spokesman for APRA, declined to comment further.

Shifting Stance

While regulators haven’t yet introduced firm lending controls, their resistance to such measures has softened. The RBA’s Ellis in October 2012 said she didn’t see a need for “elaborate” rules, and “a culture of cooperation, dialog and mutual respect” is more important than formal arrangements. In contrast, Stevens said after his speech in Hobart that the RBA is “quite happy” for limits on lending and capital requirements on banks to be imposed where they make sense.

The RBA and APRA have acknowledged potential benefits of loan limits “but at this stage they don’t believe that this type of policy action is necessary,” said David Ellis, a Sydney-based analyst at Morningstar Inc. “If the housing market was out of control and if loan growth, particularly investor credit, grew exponentially then it’d be introduced.”


Burgernomics: Aussie dollar is just right, says the Big Mac index

Business reporter

July 28, 2014

You may read the article here or click on the link below to go to the full site.

Food for thought: The Big Mac index was created in 1986 to make foreign exchange rates more digestible.

Food for thought: The Big Mac index was created in 1986 to make foreign exchange rates more digestible. Photo: Joe Armao


Exporters may be bemoaning the ‘stubbornly high’ Australian dollar, but according to the Big Mac Index, its valuation is spot on.

That’s right, you heard correctly, burgernomics is a serious business, particularly in determining whether currencies are at their “correct” level.

The price of a Big Mac in America was $US4.80 in July. In Australia it was $US4.81 at market exchange rates, meaning that the Aussie was overvalued by 0.4 per cent, according to The Economist’s raw Big Mac Index.


Photo: McDonald’s; Thomson Reuters; IMF


It is the third time in the past 14 years that the Australian dollar has been valued at the so-called correct level. The other times were in 2013 and 2009 before the local unit began its meteoric rise.

The Aussie remained well above 90 US cents in past weeks, fetching about 94 cents in early trade on Monday. The Reserve Bank has been reluctant to talk down the currency for much of this year, despite its strong jawboning of the dollar in December when it fetched an average of 89.78 US cents.

But the rate of inflation is such that it is making it difficult for the RBA to convincingly suggest it will take action to lower the currency. The consumer price index rose by 0.5 per cent for the second quarter of this year to take the annual headline rate to 3 per cent, which is at the top end of the RBA’s target band.

The Economist newspaper invented the Big Mac Index in 1986 in an effort to make exchange rate theory more digestible.

It is based on the theory of purchasing-power parity – a technique used to the measure the relative vale of different currencies. In an ideal world, exchange rates should move towards the rate that would equalise the prices of an identical basket of goods and services (in The Economist’s case, a burger) in any two countries.

Before 2009 the Aussie had been heavily undervalued, according to the Big Mac Index. In early 2001 a Big Mac cost $US1.52 at market exchange rates, undervaluing the Aussie at 40.3 per cent.

It reached its record high in July 2011, when that same burger cost $US4.94, meaning the currency was then overvalued by 21.6 per cent.

Despite being the subject of at least 20 academic studies, the index has attracted criticism. Much of the argument against the measure has been that average burger prices in poor countries are expected to be cheaper than richer ones because labour costs are lower.

The Economist acknowledges that the relationship between prices and GDP per person may be a better guide to the fair value of a currency, which is why it also includes that measure in the Big Mac Index.

“The difference between the price … for each country, given its income per person and its actual price, gives a supersized measure of currency under- and over-valuation,” the newspaper says.


Roll up, roll up! The circus is at the Showground (in Castle Hill)

The fun starts today, 25th July!


On air: Lennon Bros Circus has a group of daring aerialists and a flying trapeze troupe. Picture: Anna WarrOn air: Lennon Bros Circus has a group of daring aerialists and a flying trapeze troupe. Picture: Anna Warr

You may read the article here or click on the link below to go to the full site:

Australia’s largest animal circus, Lennon Bros, has set up camp at the Castle Hill Showground.

Shows start Friday, July 25, and will continue until Sunday, August 10.

Included in the stunning new show are the performing dogs and a troupe of performing artists from Chile and Boston.

They will join a crew of Australian artists, as well as lions, monkeys, llamas, camels, miniature donkeys, horses and, of course, clowns.

The Lennon Bros circus family is now in its seventh generation and has 120 years of experience under the Big Top.

The family-owned and operated circus specialises in offering something to suit all ages.

A circus representative said she hoped to see many locals turn out during their Liverpool stay.

“It would be a shame for the children to miss it,” she said.

“The animals and their relationships with the trainers and the incredible things that the human body is capable of are a great learning experience for children of all ages.”

Shows will be held at from Wednesday to Sunday at various times.

Tickets range from $15-$30 for children and $25-$40 for adults.

Tickets are also available from the on-site box office one hour before each show.

Bookings: 0408 536 666 or Lennon Bros Circus.



Fixed interest rates too good to pass up, say experts

By Su-Lin Tan

July 25, 2014 – 7:38AM

You may read the article here or click on the link below to go to the full site.

Heading north: Experts are tipping interest rates to rise next year.Heading north: Experts are tipping interest rates to rise next year. Photo: Frances Mocnik

Home loan customers should take advantage of low fixed interest rates and lock in now, experts say.

The Commonwealth Bank, National Australia Bank and Westpac on Wednesday cut their longer-term ­interest rates to below 5 per cent.

ANZ was the only one of the big four banks not to lower its five-year fixed mortgage rate to 4.99 per cent this week.
ANZ was the only one of the big four banks not to lower its five-year fixed mortgage rate to 4.99 per cent this week. Photo: Supplied

CBA was the first to lower its five-year fixed mortgage rate to 4.99 per cent. NAB and Westpac followed suit.

“Competition in this market has finally bred benefits for consumers; 4.99 per cent on a five-year home loan is very sharp. It is an excellent deal,” said Alex Parsons, chief executive of interest rate research company RateCity.

“Will rates keep coming down? No. Non-banks have had below 5 per cent for a while. Now banks have joined in.”

Interest rate advisers all agree conditions are ideal for a switch to fixed rates.

“Our monthly Reserve Bank surveys say the interest rate is due to rise in the next year. It is likely that the interest rate will drop before rising again to normal levels, but at the moment this is a good rate,” spokeswoman Michelle Hutchison said.

“Historically, cash rates have been around 5 per cent and interest rates another 2 per cent higher. So we are now near the bottom of the cycle.”

Rates may drop before they rise, but borrowers are better off locking in the rate now rather than speculating.

“Even with a possible rate reduction you still get comfort from hedging your bets against the possibility of rates ­eventually going up,” 1300 Home Loan managing director John Kolenda said.

AMP Capital’s chief economist Shane Oliver, agreed, saying economic indicators showed borrowers needed to take advantage of the low rates.

“Fixed rates are normally higher. Average inflation tells me the RBA will not stay at the current rate,” he said.

Rate rise likely in nine months

Dr Oliver predicted a rate rise was likely to be about nine months away, around the June quarter next year.

“The banks are offering this deal because they can. Costs of borrowing have dropped and are consistent with Australian bond yields falling.”

A combination of economic factors including improvements in the global capital market with lower spreads have resulted in the cheaper cost of money.

“Last year some mortgage providers were already doing 5 per cent. So to avoid losing market share, the big banks have joined in,” Dr Oliver said.

He cautioned the low rate deals may not last because banks would have only a limited amount of money at low rates.

But Mr Kolenda said borrowers must be sure they are switching for the right reasons, such as certainty of repayment and peace of mind rather than as a speculative play on where rates are going to move.

“Many committed to fixed rates just before the global financial crisis and watched the rate drop to a low of 3 per cent,” he said.

Fixed rates are also not ideal for ­people on high salaries.

“If you lock it in now, and want to repay chunks of the loan, you may have break costs. Also, are you upgrading your loans, or having another child?” Canstar research manager Mitchell Watson said. He recommended splitting loans between variable and fixed rates to “get best of both worlds”.

Interest rate adviser Mozo is more conservative, saying consumers must watch the rates for the next few weeks.

“We may not be at the bottom yet,” director Kirsty Lamont said. “This is the start of what will be more pressure on fixed rates. Other lenders will match if not undercut the rates.”

Storage tips for the laundry and bathroom

Australia’s three speed economy in danger of stalling

By Stephen Caichi

July 21, 2014 – 2:05PM

Housing construction is helping keep the WA economy in the lead.

Housing construction is helping keep the WA economy in the lead.

You may read the article here or click on the link below to go to the full site:

Read more:

Australia has a three-tier economy with Western Australia, the Northern Territory and New South Wales outperforming the rest of the country, according to the quarterly Commsec State of the States report.

The report was released amid warnings from the Melbourne Economic Forum on Monday that Australia faced declining living standards unless it radically boosted its productivity.

In the Commsec report, the states were assessed using a number of key indicators including retail spending, equipment investment, employment, construction work, population growth, housing finance, dwelling starts, wages, inflation and home prices.

South Australia and Tasmania are the national underperformers, with the other states and the ACT in the middle.

Among the top tier, Western Australia ‘‘remains the best-performing economy in the nation, holding its position due to strength in home purchase and construction,’’ according to Commsec.

The state is ranked first for retail trade and housing finance, second for economic growth and construction work, and third for business investment, population growth and dwelling starts.

The Northern Territory is the second strongest economy, leading the way on economic growth, business investment, employment and construction work.

New South Wales remains the third strongest economy, underpinned by solid population growth and home building.

Among the middle tier economies, ‘‘there is little to separate Queensland, Victoria and the ACT’’, according to Commsec.

Queensland the second strongest on business investment but seventh on population growth, Victoria is the second-ranked economy for population growth and housing finance and the ACT has the second strongest economy for employment and dwelling starts.

‘‘There is a sizeable gap in the rankings to South Australia and Tasmania,’’ the report noted, with the two states performing badly on the key indicators.

South Australia is sixth to eighth on the key indicators, although it is fifth on construction work and population growth;

Tasmania is the worst-performing economy in the nation, coming last on four indicators – economic growth, construction work, population growth and dwelling starts.

Each of the key indicators was ranked as a percentage change in the March 2014 quarter on a decade average.

Meanwhile, detailed modelling published on Monday by the Melbourne Economic Forum –  a newly created group of top economists and public policy specialists – has predicted stark outcomes for Australia unless there are further economic reforms.

The Forum said that the end of the resources investment boom and falling terms of trade could mean unemployment will hit 6.6 per cent in just over a year, pushing an extra 250,000 people into joblessness and stripping $1200 from per-capita income by 2020. As well, incomes were likely to fall until at least 2020 as the mining boom receded and export prices fell, sending gross national income per capita down by about 0.3 per cent a year over the next five years.

To prevent this, Australia would need an ABS-measured productivity growth rate of 0.7 per cent per annum just to maintain living standards, and 2 per cent to keep living standards growing at their average for the past decade, said the Forum.

To prevent a rise in unemployment, real average earnings would need to shrink by 0.89 per cent a year, and the dollar would need to fall by an extra 20 per cent – equivalent to around US75¢ – to help the economy make its adjustment to the post-boom era.

Ross Garnaut and Leslie Martin, economics professors at the University of Melbourne, and James Giesecke, director of Victoria University’s Centre for Policy Studies, conducted the modelling.

‘‘Do we have a problem that requires budget adjustment, income restraint and new reform efforts to lift productivity? Or is the Australian ‘she’ll be right’ approach to economic policy in the early 21st century good enough,” the pair write.

The Forum will host its first gathering on Monday to discuss Australia’s macro-economic prospects. It will hear presentations by Professors Garnaut; Treasury’s head of macro-economics, David Gruen; former Liberal leader John Hewson; and former Labor trade minister Craig Emerson.

with The Australian Financial Review 

Castle Towers set to become state’s biggest shopping centre