Housing credit continues to expand as housing debt climbs

The recent release of the May 2014 national housing credit data by the Reserve Bank (RBA) confirmed that outstanding housing credit continued to increase at a moderate pace compared with the historic trend.

However, with housing credit aggregates and household debt also starting to rise, it may raise some alarm bells with the Reserve Bank.

The RBA’s financial aggregate statistics details the amount lent by domestic financial institutions. The latest data to May 2014, shows that outstanding credit grew by 0.4% over the month and is 4.7% higher over the year. The annual increase was comprised of a 6.2% rise in housing credit, a 0.3% increase in other personal credit and a 2.7% increase in business credit. Clearly, housing credit continues to be the main driver of the overall expansion in credit.

Housing credit continues to expand as housing debt climbs

A breakdown of housing credit data over the 12 months to May 2014 shows that owner occupier housing credit increased by 5.2% and investor housing credit increased by a greater 8.3%. This was the greatest annual rise in owner occupier credit since March 2012 and for investor credit, the rise is the largest since August 2010. Historically, the level of credit expansion is quite low where over the past 20 years, the average annual increase in owner occupier housing credit was recorded at 11.3% and investor credit has averaged 16.0%.

The annual change in owner occupier housing credit reached a recent low of 3.9% between January and March of 2013, which indicates that the recent rise has been quite strong.

Housing credit continues to expand as housing debt climbs

Investment housing credit troughed at an annual increase of 4.8% in January 2012 and has since increased to 8.3% annual growth. Growth in investment lending has been very strong over the past 18 months and in-line with the growth in home values which has been recorded since mid-2012.

The vast majority of outstanding credit to financial institutions is for housing as opposed to other personal or business loans. As at May 2014, the RBA data shows a record high 60.6% of all credit was for housing, a record low 33.2% was to business and 6.2% was for other personal credit provisions.

With only so much money available to be lent by Australian financial institutions, they are showing a clear preference for mortgage lending. In fact, lending for mortgages has been the preferred option for banks consistently since April 2001, right as the housing market started to boom.

Housing credit continues to expand as housing debt climbs

The preferential treatment by institutions for mortgage lending over businesses is likely due to the ongoing strong performance of mortgages. The confidence around this is based on no recent long-term mass declines in home values and mortgage arrears rates have remained low.

Furthermore, mortgagees have seen equity in their homes increase and used this to fund alternate investment and in some instances, fund the start-up of small businesses.

Each quarter the RBA publishes data on the ratio of household debt to disposable income.The latest data to March 2014 shows that the ratio of total debt is 149.9% which is its highest since September 2010. The ratio of housing debt was recorded at 135.8% which is its highest on record. With home values rising and credit growing households are taking on additional housing debt.

One would think that this is the most problematic development for the RBA. Household debt levels are already high (much higher than public debt) and although household savings has increased over recent years there has been no significant reduction in household debt levels and they are now rising.

Housing credit continues to expand as housing debt climbs

With a greater number of people looking to purchase homes we are seeing housing credit once again escalating which has now flowed through to a rise in household debt.

We have no doubt that both RBA and APRA will be keeping a close eye on household and housing debt levels as growth in national home values continues. If debt levels continue to rise it is likely to be a potential cause for concern with households becoming more indebted at a time when interest rates are so low. When interest rates inevitably rise in the future, some households may find it harder to repay that debt.

Cameron Kusher

Cameron Kusher

Cameron Kusher is senior research analyst at CoreLogic RP Data.

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Cameron Kusher

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