What's behind the banks approach to LVR policy?

by Alistair Helm in ,


Image courtesy of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand

Image courtesy of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand

It is now 10 months since the Reserve Bank implemented its LVR policy, the macro-prudential tool designed to bring a cooling effect to what was clearly a heated property market, especially in Auckland. 

Ten months in which the property market has seen a significant turnaround. The market was already loosing momentum during the winter of 2013, having seen over two and a half years of volume growth when sales had risen on a moving annual total from 55,000 to 80,000.

NZ sales MAT Jun 2014.png

However the impact of the LVR policy by the Reserve Bank in October last year effectively stalled the engine of the property market. From a peak of 80,677 in October last year the annualised total of property sales has already fallen to 75,637 and year-on-year monthly growth has been negative since October plummeting to a 20% fall in April.

Prior to the implementation of the LVR policy limiting lending above 80% loan-to-value to 10% of the total loan pool of the retail banks, this higher risk / low deposit sector was accounting for upwards of 25% of the total lending - at least that was what the data released by the Reserve Bank showed for the months of August and September of last year. Now I can fully believe that these months were somewhat inflated as those prospective buyers with low deposits rushed to take advantage before the door closed on these 90% and 95% mortgages.

The make up of the customer base of these high loan-to-value loans is hard to accurately identify. Certainly there would be 1st home buyers, however there is no way that close to 1 in 4 of property buyers were at anytime 1st time buyers, more likely would be a number around 10%. The other customers of these high loan-to-value mortgages would be a mix of investors and speculators. 

Investors like to leverage their purchases allowing them to acquire a portfolio of properties whilst maintaining an available cash pool for future opportunities so they like 90+% loan-to-value mortgages - the low deposit multiplies the appreciation of the property in relation to their return on investment.

Speculators also like high loan-to-value mortgages as it frees up cash for property renovations and improvements without having to constantly go back to the bank for progress requests for additional funding - speeding up their process of renovation and subsequent sale. 

There is no doubt these 3 segments of the property market were active in the the period of 2011/2012 as these 3 groups and particularly the latter two are generally good at reading the market and getting in quick before the market rises and then sticking or flicking (in the case of speculators) as the market ramps up.

The subsequent months since October of last year have shown a significant slowing of the lending to these 3 segments.

As the chart shows the subsequent months (with the exception of October) has seen the retail banks lend considerably less than their allowable quota of 10% of all loans (based on a 3 month moving average). 

Now here is the question. How complicated is it for the major retail banks to manage the lending to optimise this segment of the market whilst at the same time ensure that they do not breach the 10% threshold?

You would think that given retail banks make profits from lending rather than hoarding they would be keen to continue to lend high loan-to-value mortgages to these customers based on the situation that if they did not, then some other bank might, after all they do operate in a highly competitive marketplace. Certainly the banks have advanced computer systems, modelling capability and staff to be able to manage that threshold day-by-day and hour-by-hour to ensure that they leant exactly 9.9% of their loan book each month. So why is it that over the course of the past 10 months instead of lending $3.9 billion of high loan-to-value mortgages they have only leant $2.7 billion? - they have in effect collectively denied themselves the opportunity of lending an extra $128 million per month for 10 months!

The answer to the question may lie in two alternate scenarios:

Scenario 1 - Banks hide behind Reserve Bank

Retail Banks despite their commercial imperative are conservative businesses and they mitigate risk. They also operate within a highly regulated industry. Their objective is to defray risk by ideally lending to low risk borrowers at higher rates than they pay to depositors on safe assets. Now property, especially residential property is generally regarded as a low risk asset. However the past decade has taught us all to regard nothing as low risk. Whilst the worst of the excesses of the sub-prime mortgage market was never close to our shores, the ripple effect was felt and has created a sense of caution in the banking industry. 

The Reserve Bank action in implementing its LVR policy effectively provided the retail banks with a legitimate escape card to which all of them could with one voice state that prospective customers should take more responsibility for the asset they wanted to buy by having a greater deposit than the traditional 10% or 5%. In one fell swoop the retail banks managed to avoid a great chunk of risk. Sure the impact was a collective loss of lending opportunity but given the favourable underlying economic conditions and the fact that the impact fell evenly across all banks there could be argued a view that the banks collectively were happy to shave a small amount off their earnings for a significant reduction in risk.

This is merely a hypothesis but one that to me, has a degree of logic, I am not an economist but I feel there could be a part of the rationale at work within the retail banking industry over this issue.

 

Scenario 2 - Banks can’t sell these high Loan-to-value mortgages

An alternative scenario is one that I have not heard voiced, so I’ll give it a go!

There is actually insufficient demand to fulfil the supply side opportunity of high loan-to-value mortgages at the current 10% threshold

This logic relies heavily on a recursive argument that the impact of the announcement of the implementation of the LVR policy certainly can be seen as having a rush-for-the-door effect before the 1st October deadline and that mild panic matched to a clear media messages after the fact that banks were becoming highly restrictive of such high loan-to value mortgages would have had a dampening effect on demand.

That dampened demand certainly lead to a slowing of sales, which was quickly reported in the media, which in turn lead to talk of the deflation of any property bubble, which whilst in principle a signal that should send a message of comfort to the market, actually caused a reaction from a core target market for these loans (being primarily investors and speculators) who believing that the market had peaked. They then judged that this was the time to exit the market, either through consolidating their portfolio or selling properties. This action suddenly and significantly depressed this segment of the market, possibly from a level of 15% - 20% of the market down to 5% of the market.

Add to this behaviour another key issue of the Reserve Bank data as presented in the charts and numbers - the total value of mortgages each month as reported by the Reserve Bank is defined as ‘Total New Commitments’ - this sum $4,499 million in the case of June is the total value of all new written mortgages and includes refinance mortgages, especially including a significant component of moving from floating to fixed rate mortgages.

The fact is over the past 10 months and especially the past 6 months with the clear signals of impending OCR increases the residential mortgage market has transitioned back to fixed term mortgages. This will have driven the total of 'new commitments' and therefore will have had a depressing factor on the percentage of high loan-to-value mortgages.


So having presented the two scenarios I take the view that what we have seen in the market is probably a combination of both scenarios. Banks like to negate risk, it is highly probable that investors and speculators have moved to take a back-seat int he market and the re-mortgaging factor has also been at play.

The only party therefore who have been a pawn in these moves has been true first home buyers who have been significantly effected by the LVR policy and also by rising interest rates. As to whether they are heading back into the market as witnessed and reported in the media, I doubt it and sadly there is no accurate data to back this up.

 

 


Latest B&T data reinforces impact of LVR

by Alistair Helm in


Barfoot & Thompson published its Housing Market Update for May highlighting what is a clearly a slowing property market with the year on year sales volume down 14% as compared to May 2013. The trend of property sales is downward, from a peak in October last year the moving annual total of sales by Barfoot & Thompson in the Auckland market has fallen from 13,232 to 12,572 in May.

Within the composition of sales for the month of May the most striking fact is that whilst total sales at 1,109 was down 14% compared to a year ago the sales of property below $400,000 was down 50% - the total sales in May 2013 of property below $400,000 was 301 properties, a year later this segment had fallen by half to just 151.

Just to reinforce these numbers, excluding the below $400,000 segment which still represents 1 in 8 properties in Auckland the remainder of the property sales, those over $400,000 saw sales volumes slip just 3% down from 991 in May 2013 to 958 a year later. So almost all of the 14% fall in total sales is as a result of the collapse of the sub $400,000 segment.

It can be no coincidence that this segment of the market has been the hardest hit by the withdrawal of funding for high LVR mortgages which are primarily for 1st time buyers seeking an entry level property which in Auckland has traditionally been this sector. 

The LVR restrictions came into effect in October of last year and since that time sales in the 8 month period for property at this lower price bracket of less than $400,000 has totalled 1,541 property sales a year earlier it was 2,123, nearly 600 less purchases over that 8 month period, at a time when sales volumes overall barely changed. The chart below very clearly shows the impact of the LVR - performance before October certainly showed a weakening in the lower price segment of the market; however after implementation the impact has been striking with the red bars for the lower prices segments showing the decline in year on year sales volumes. The retardant of LVR restrictions has certainly quelled the fire of the property market which  was burning brightly this time last year.



How can the median price be rising when property sale prices aren't rising?

by Alistair Helm in ,


This is not a conundrum, it is in my opinion the reality of the situation in today’s market and has lead to these fairly striking statement by some leading economists:

Westpac's Chief Economist Dominick Stephens said “It is impossible to tell what is really going on with house prices

New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (NZIER) principal economist Shamubeel Eaqub said “trying to forecast house prices has been a mug's game

The reason behind these statements is the conflicting data coming out from REINZ and from QV - specifically the March median price data which showed an accelerating rise in price from 8.2% year-on-year growth in February to 9.2% in March set against a fall in sales of 10% and QV reporting that the rate of price increase was easing. In a single month REINZ reported the median price of NZ property had risen from $415,000 to $440,000!

There has even been questions as to the accuracy of the REINZ data. This is not something I believe, or have any insight into, but such comments certainly demonstrate the concern in the market as so much value is attached to the timely and accurate indicators of the property market by so many sectors of the economy.

I have long advocated the use of the REINZ Stratified Median price index as a more accurate methodology for tracking the true indicator of the price of property sales across the country, however even this measure, long trusted for its lack of volatility has of late shown some wild fluctuations. 

Tracking these fluctuations over the past 20 years as the chart below highlights shows that on a 3 month moving average basis the recent decade has shown a normal fluctuation range of around $3,900 from month to month, this was a higher level of volatility when compared to the 90’s when the volatility was less than $1,700 month to month.

In the last 3 months this volatility has spiked with the 3 months average for the 2014 year so far showing a volatility month-to-month exceeding $11,000 - a highly volatile situation.

 

So why is it that we are seeing this volatility?

In my opinion the impact of the LVR restrictions are having a greater impact on the property market than is currently being acknowledged.

Let's look at the facts:

  • Sales of lower priced properties are down - the data is reported by both REINZ and in the Auckland market by Barfoot & Thompson. 
  • Overall property sales have already come off their peak and are easing - 10% down in the year to March.
  • The retail banks have demonstrated an ‘over-correction’ to the Reserve Bank imposed 10% criteria for high LVR lending, resulting in upwards of a 90% fall in the approval of 80+% LVR mortgages.

To better assist in understanding how these indicators might be contributing to the volatility in the median price I have developed a hypothetical scenario of the composition of the property market sales in a month. The by comparing this with a subsequent month where the underlying property prices remain the same year-on-year across all price sectors, where sales volumes remain unchanged across all price sectors, with the exception of the lower priced end of the market and let me show the impact.

Here is a hypothetical normal distribution of property sales in say March 2013 - 5,082 sales with a median price of $400,000 and for reference an average price of $507,000

Now let’s jump forward to March 2014 - let's reduce by 23% the sales volumes in the price ranges $225,000 to $400,000 - just these price ranges. All other sales volumes by price range remain identical to the year earlier.

The outcome of this impact (the hypothetical impact of the LVR restriction) is shown in the chart by the marginal sales reduction in red across those price ranges.

That 23% fall in sales across those lower priced properties segment leads to an overall 10% fall in total sales to 4,567. The median price though went up by 8% to $431,000 and the average price went up by just 4% to $528,000.

This model is designed to demonstrate that what we could be experiencing is two components of the property market working in complete isolation.

The majority of the property market is plodding on unaffected with the no change in year-on-year sales volumes, and not experiencing any price appreciation. Whilst in those sectors directly affected by the LVR restriction the sales volumes have dropped by 23% but equally with no price change amongst those sales. The net effect though is that the signal being sent out to the market through the median sales price is that property prices overall are rising in an inflationary manner.

A classic situation where aggregated statistics belies the true situation.  


LVR impact is significant and growing

by Alistair Helm in


The Reserve Bank has released actual data on the extent to which banks are lending at 'Loan to Value' levels of 80% and above - the threshold imposed by the Bank Governor in October last year.

At the time the Governor stated that "From 1 October 2013, banks will be required to restrict new residential mortgage lending at LVRs of over 80 percent (deposit of less than 20 percent) to no more than 10 percent of the dollar value of their new residential mortgage lending". 

Well the fact is that based on the months of December and January retail banks are not only keeping such lending below the threshold of 10% - they are actually barely touching 5% of the loans (by value).

In January just $147m of lending was made above the 80% LVR threshold representing just 4.8% of the total value of lending in the month. Accepting that January is a quieter month this amount represents a fall of almost almost 90% as compared to August last year.

What is interesting is the extent to which this significantly reduction of lending above the 80% threshold equates to in terms of the number of first time buyers in the market. For this analysis I have made some assumptions as full details are not available.

The data of weekly mortgage approvals published by The Reserve Bank shows the number and the total value and thereby the imputed average value. I have made the assumption that rather than thinking high LVR loans will be at a lower than average value, they are in fact more likely to be well above the average. The logic is that within this data set from the Reserve Bank of mortgage approvals is not just new loans but also refinancing of loans many of which may be older loans and thereby at a lower average value, whereas first home buyers representing a higher proportion of high LVR are likely to see loan values closer to say 80% of the median house price, thereby a loan of $330,000. For this reason I have assumed that high LVR loans have an average value of $275,00 whereas the average for all loans is closer to $175,000.

This table below sets out the overall data of the average of mortgage approvals for the 22 weeks pre 1st October and the 22 weeks since 1st October.

Total - all mortgage approvalsNumber of mortgage approvals per week Total value of lending per week Average Value
      
Pre - 1 Oct 2013 6,803  $1,212,192,555 $178,185
      
Post 1 Oct 23013 5,863  $973,287,315 $166,005
      
Variance-14% -20% -7%
Approvals - LVR over 80%Number of mortgage approvals per week Total value of lending per week Average Value
      
Pre - 1 Oct 2013 1,102  $303,048,139 $275,000
      
Post 1 Oct 23013 177  $48,664,366 $275,000
      
Variance-84% -84% 0%
Approvals - LVR below 80%Number of mortgage approvals per week Total value of lending per week Average Value
      
Pre - 1 Oct 2013 5,701  $909,144,416 $159,471
      
Post 1 Oct 23013 5,686  $924,622,949 $162,614
      
Variance0% 2% 2%

Based on the data and the assumption of high LVR loans, the data would seem to show that the massive reduction (close to 90%) in lending at high LVR represents a fall from around 1,100 such loans a week before the intervention of the Reserve Bank to an average of just 177 per week since the 1st October. Admittedly the last 2 months prior to implementation did likely see a degree of a 'lolly scramble" ahead of the changes.

The impact of this tightening of lending controls in the housing market has consequentially lead to the overall lending market being down 14% in the number of mortgage advances and 20% down in value, with the traditional lower LVR loans hardly changing in volume or average value across this period.

Clearly we only have 4 months data and the next few months will be most interesting to observe as to the trend, but at this point in time the data would seem to point to the view that the retail banks are being tighter in their implementation of the Reserve Bank's policy restriction than required - significantly impacting the property market.


LVR impact in Auckland market hidden in the data

by Alistair Helm in ,


November_2013_Market_Update___Barfoot___Thompson-3.png

The headline from the Barfoot & Thompson's November Market Update stated confidently "Mortgage restrictions no barrier to Auckland house price increases". The commentary then went on to say that the LVR impact has yet to show up in housing activity (sales) or sale prices.

The data then stated that both average sale price and median sale price were up again as highlighted by the chart below.

B& T price Nov 13.png

 

A cause of the further rise in sale price for November was the record level of sales of homes over $1m - 189 of them a record for the company. In November last year that total of sales over $1m was 129, a variance of 60. That increase in sales at the top end would impact the average price but the median price would be less impacted. However what is more likely to impact the median price and the average price was a variance of 97 in sales of lower priced properties. In November 2012 B&T sold 292 properties below $400,000 this November that number was 195. Seen as a proportion of all sales in the month as the chart details below the drop is significant.

B&T Nov 13.png

 

Clearly the monthly drop in November was significant but the trend has been established for quite a few months now as the lower end of the market as served by B&T in Auckland (who represent around 40% of the market) has fallen away. The November one month fall from October this year is more significant than either of the past 2 years indicating that the impact of the LVR restrictions are being felt through the numbers.

These detailed sales by price bracket data is provided by B&T on their site and I applaud them for that openness, something that we have seen withdrawn by the Real Estate Institute who used to make such data accessible but now decides to charge fees to access. 

As I stated last month in the article "The LVR speed limit - crippling or merely cooling the market"

We will need to wait until at least the November sales figures and more likely until the new year as well as to study housing loan approvals before the definitive statement can be made as to the true impact on the changes as a consequence on the high LVR restrictions, indications certainly show an impact, though that impact in sales is not huge as yet.

Here we have the first indicator through the Auckland market from B&T - not featured in the headline, but buried in the detail. As I said the November sales figures should give us some indications. Here is some such data - will we get detail from the Real Estate Institute in their data or will the headline smooth over the facts?


The LVR speed limit - crippling or merely cooling the market

by Alistair Helm in ,


Speedlimit_80_shutterstock_107472449.jpg.png

The Real Estate Institute in their monthly report for October stated in headlining their report that "LVR Restrictions Impacting Sales Volumes" - they went on to say "sales volumes eased back in October following the introduction by the Reserve Bank of restrictions on high LVR lending". The actual sales in October were 6,778 which was up 2% on a year ago, that month of October 2012 was up 32% on the prior October of 2011, which itself was up 28% on the prior year being 2010. So in the space of 3 years sales volumes are up 74%, in fact the level of 6,778 is the median for the past 21 years. 

Property sales growth is slowing - looking at the trend of monthly sales as compared to prior year we are coming to the end of a run of 30 straight months of growth in sales year-on-year, by no means the longest run, but a strong recovery from the property crash of 2008 as the chart below shows. Typical towards the end of a long run of growth comes more erratic variance as the growth begins to turn negative as we are seeing in the October figures.

REINZ monthly sales var.png

 

Added to these factual statistics from the Real Estate Institute was the monthly survey of real estate agents published by the BNZ and initiated through the Institute. This survey which I have mentioned before could be a vital sense of a pulse of the property market as the Institute represents almost all licensed agents. Given that it is a shame that from the population of close on 10,000 such low reporting of the monthly survey occurs. This month the survey looked for verbatim responses to the statement "What effects have you noticed from the LVR rules?". There were 247 responses published by the BNZ report. A quick count up had 180 of these comments showing a very pessimistic view on the impact of these LVR changes and the impact on first time buyers and open home attendance as well as performance of auctions. Here is sense of the responses:

 auction rate under the hammer has dropped dramatically

number of first home buyers in the market has decreased markedly

More very frustrated Vendors

Majority of first home buyers dropped from the market

Drastic decrease in competitive bidders/bidding

Massive decrease of first home buyers

Definite drop off in first home and migrant buyers

Huge decrease in people looking at property

A lot of Sale and Purchase agreements are not going unconditional or if they are it is at a cheaper, 
renegotiated price

Massive reduction of attendees at open homes

Overnight no enquiry from first home buyers. they have been scared away

 

Reading through these and the other verbatim comments reflecting a net 72% negative you would soon become depressed about the future months of property sales with a sense of up to 30% decline as that has been the often quoted component of 1st time buyers. However the reality is there is no accurate source of data that shows what 1st time buyers actually represent of the market so any prediction of effect is largely guess work, and the views of agents from what is a very small sample - just 247 from 10,000 (2.5%) should be taken with a note of caution.

There is though data from the Reserve Bank that reports the weekly levels of Housing loan approvals of both new mortgages and re-mortgages. Such data provides vital opportunity for analysis as I have done in the charts below.

RB actual mortgage approvals.png

This chart shows in the red line the 4 week moving average of the number of housing loan approvals made by trading banks. The last few weeks of October certainly showed an accelerated decline, however the trend as best seen in the grey line being the 12 week moving average shows that volumes had been declining since a peak in May of this year, however they still remain around 6,000 a week.

The next chart shows the trend of volume comparing the 4 week moving average year-on-year. This chart certainly would seem to show a picture of the announcement of the decision to implement the speed limit of high LVR triggering a slowing in volume of new housing loan approvals, in effect reversing a period of recovery which began in July, although as with the prior chart the longer term trend still shows slowing growth.

RB mortgage trend.png

We will need to wait until at least the November sales figures and more likely until the new year as well as to study housing loan approvals before the definitive statement can be made as to the true impact on the changes as a consequence on the high LVR restrictions, indications certainly show an impact, though that impact in sales is not huge as yet.

 

 

 


The silver lining of the new LVR Restrictions

by Alistair Helm in


Calendar-1.png

The first day of October has dawned and with it the introduction of the LVR restrictions imposed by The Reserve Bank on the main trading banks forcing them to reign in their lending to borrowers with low deposits (less than 20%).

Certainly this is going to have an impact on the property market. It will impact those who either do not have the necessary 20%+ deposit and also importantly those who do not want to tie up that much capital in a property, especially an investment property. Investors tend to like to highly gear their investment properties so as to maximize their interest cost recovery against tax. Therefore there will likely be an impact not only among first-time buyers but also investors.

However as with all matters economic, there is always a contrary position and in fact there will be winners or potential winners from the LVR restrictions.

The fact is the main trading banks whilst strictly adhering to the new policy (especially as their operating license is at stake, not something they are likely to risk for one second) will not for a moment relinquish their desire to continue to build their business by lending against property as a secure asset. These banks are hardly going to be able to settle back and report to their shareholders that they have seen their profits fall because of this policy. Their shareholders will rightly expect them to seek to find alternative lending options to make up for any potential loss of clients in the high LVR market.

This is where that contrary position comes in. If you are not a first-time buyer or an investor. If you have a healthy equity ownership in your property and you are possibly looking to buy a house or refinance. You may well now find out that your local bank is even more happy to see you, greet you warmly and encourage you to discuss options with you.

The fact is that for every large value low-LVR mortgage that a bank can write, will effectively allow them to offer a lifeline to first-time buyers and investors.

Here is a somewhat simplistic example to illustrate this situation.

Lets say a bank as of last week has 25 prospective mortgage customers. 10 of those customers are after a 90% mortgage to buy a property and they all want to borrow $300,000 to fund that purchase of a $333,000 property. The other 15 customers happen to be customers with a larger portion of equity. They are looking to borrow $750,000 each to buy a $1.25m home – 60% LVR mortgage.

Bank mortgages 1.png

This package of mortgages totals $14.25 million and results in the bank having 21% of its mortgage book in loans over 80%. A situation that the Reserve Bank says has to stop from the 1st October.

So from the 1st October the bank in the same scenario of those 25 new customers would have to turn away 6 of the 10 customer who wanted 90% mortgages to ensure that their total mortgage book has no more than 10% in high LVR mortgages. This decision would cost the bank a 13% fall in overall lending, down to $12.45 million and likely a consequential fall in profits.

 

Bank mortgages 2.png


However if the bank reached out to some more of these higher value customers who are well below the 80% LVR threshold and offered them an enticement in the form of lower interest rate or other inducement then by attracting just 2 more of these higher value customers they could also satisfy one more first home buyer and in so doing end up with 22 customers rather than 19. They would have a total mortgage book up 5% at $15 million and a potential competitive advantage.

Bank mortgages 3.png

So my advice is be alert to some very friendly and generous bank representative courting you if you are after large mortgages and if you have a good strong equity position in your home!