Three housing market factors making APRA's Wayne Byres uneasy

Three housing market factors making APRA's Wayne Byres uneasy
Three housing market factors making APRA's Wayne Byres uneasy

Rising household debt levels, the hot Sydney property market and continued low interest rates has made Australian Prudential Regulation Authority Wayne Byres uneasy.

It seems he especially fears a market propped up by artificially low, interest-only borrowing rates.

Last month he decided the trend to over borrow, and then not to repay home loans in the conventional manner of interest and principal, was a likely recipe for a economic uncertainty.

To preserve financial stability, the prudential regulator decided in its latest macro-prudential measure that the interest-only loans fad need to be constrained.

The banks were told that less than 30 per cent of their new mortgages can be interest-only, well below the 38 per cent of total loans currently taken.

With borrowers realising paying interest-only freed up cash-flow, they've dived into interest-only loans which haven't been below 30 per cent since around 2008.

Interest-only loans typically have a period of five years, and then the loan will revert to the normal P&I repayments, with the recent accompanying price growth seeing the investor nicely placed to cope with the higher repayments.

The tax deduction of interest payments in the meantime on these investor loans will have been a big incentive for the investor.

Investors have accordingly snapped up the bulk of interest-only loans, but owner occupied borrowers have been a worrying large 40 per cent share.

As Sydney house prices have surged since 2012, house loan sizes have grown, and for most households who've have experienced limited wage growth, the upsizing to the bigger home has only really worked with getting an interest only loan.

On a $300,000 mortgage over 25 years at a 5% p.a. interest rate, the usual monthly repayment would be $1,754 a month. But if you were making interest-only payments, the monthly cost would be $1,250 a month.

For a $750,000 home loan the monthly repayment of $4,174 drops to $3,325 if only the interest is repaid – which for many Sydney families is the difference between owning a bigger home or not.

The push hasn't just come from borrowers as mortgage broker's commissions are calculated on the size of the loans so they are incentivised to write interest only loans.

ASIC advised this week 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. 

The Reserve Bank of Australia has warned for two years that the rise in interest-only loans could amplify the housing price cycle, increase the risk of significant price falls, and may result in households overburdened in debt. 

If house prices do drop, the borrower will likely end up owing more than the house is worth, paying much more interest than they would have otherwise paid, and then coping with the many ensuing dramatic problems.

This article first appeared in the Daily Telegraph.

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