02 February 2018

Can Australian homeowners handle higher rates?

Ashley Burtenshaw from Gryphon Capital Investments addresses this question in the video and edited transcript below.

Key points:

  • House prices are highly correlated with interest rates – as rates go down, house prices go up,
  • The ratings agencies have found that arrears rates are low,
  • Provisions for bad loans remain low with the banks,
  • As we currently stand, mortgages are quite affordable,
  • Interest rate ‘buffers’ are required by APRA when assessing loan serviceability, these should help to protect both lenders and borrowers in the event of higher rates,
  • Gryphon’s analysis, based on nearly 20 years of data, suggests that mortgages holders should be able to withstand higher rates.

Are you concerned about debt serviceability in Australia?

It comes down to capacity to pay. Our analysis leads us to looking at the housing market and interest rates. It shows that house prices are highly correlated to interest rates; so, as interest rates come down, house prices go up. That’s no surprise to us.

Now that interest rates have gone down so far, the market is starting to get concerned about interest rates rises. What is the ability for those borrowers to continue to pay given the amount of debt they’ve taken on?

Currently, when you look at interest rates, it’s quite affordable. That’s being backed up by firms like S&P and Moody’s, who rate these types of vehicles. They’re saying that the mortgage arrears rate, the borrower that’s in difficulty, is actually quite low.

When we look for other evidence, we’re looking to the banks for any increases to their loss provisions on their balance sheet. What we haven’t seen is stress, and that’s because rates are low. So, yes, with mortgage rates at this level, do they have capacity to pay? Yes. If rates start to rise, we believe we’ll start to see that uncomfortable rise in delinquencies and arrears. Provisions for doubtful debt will start to increase on the banks’ balance sheets. But where we are today, there is capacity to pay.

Can borrowers in Australia handle higher rates?

In Australia, the regulators have been ahead of the game and have sought to address this issue. When a borrower goes to get a mortgage, the bank has to assign an assessment rate. The lender looks at the borrower and says, “Okay, at what rate am I comfortable lending to you, considering the risk that I’m taking?” Because the assessment rate is a function of interest rates, the regulators stepped in to say, “If the rates start to move higher, because we have variable rate mortgage, we need to look after the borrower and make sure that there’s a sufficient buffer built into their mortgage rate.” It’s assessment rate plus buffer.

We believe that the new loans getting written after this is put through will be able to perform. However, proof will be once rates start increasing, what will be the impact? We think that it will be increasingly difficult for the market to assess this. However, we believe in the history of losses and the delinquencies since we’ve been managing it. Our data indicates that the market will be able to withstand an increase in interest rates.

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