How will the end of mortgage deferrals affect the housing boom?
Australia’s red-hot property market has enjoyed extraordinary support from the federal government’s economic stimuli, wage subsidies and leniency in lending policy from the banks.
A key question now is how the market will adjust as this COVID-19 induced emergency support is wound back.
At the height of the worst peace-time recession in a century last year, banks pulled out all stops to avoid a meltdown in the asset that dominates their loan books: residential property.
Home loan and small business customers were given an option of putting their loan repayments on hold, and hundreds of thousands took up the offer. At the peak, banks allowed some $250 billion in small business loans and home loans to be put on hold.
These deferrals officially ended at the end of March and banks say the vast majority of affected customers have returned to making mortgage repayments. However, a small minority are still struggling – some may need to eventually sell their properties.
Commonwealth Bank provides a case in point. It says the overwhelming majority of people who deferred have returned to making repayments or restructured their loans. About 1.9 per cent are working with teams that help sell properties.
The bank has a moratorium on forced sales by owner-occupiers until September.
CBA retail banking group executive Angus Sullivan expects the end of deferrals would have a “very, very marginal” impact on the supply of homes for sale, as it would probably be overpowered by the stimulatory impact of ultra-low interest rates.
“I think the driver of the housing market, first and foremost, is probably low rates,” Sullivan says.
CBA’s rivals have experienced similar trends. National Australia Bank had 1037 deferred home loans at the end of February after allowing about 110,000 people to pause repayments last year.
“Given the significant number of customers who have returned to making repayments and additional support available, we don’t expect the end of deferrals to have a material impact on the housing market,” says NAB’s group executive for personal banking Rachel Slade.
Westpac has about 2000 loans in deferral – a tiny proportion of its mortgage book, while official figures last week showed ANZ Bank had 0.9 per cent of its housing loans in deferral at the end of February.
However, the end of mortgage deferrals could still weigh on some parts of the property market.
CoreLogic research director Tim Lawless says the risk from deferred loans has “significantly diminished,” though parts of the market dominated by investors could still feel the impact of deferrals ending.
Banks have not said where most of the remaining deferred loans are located, but Lawless says they are probably concentrated among investors, particularly in inner-city Sydney and Melbourne apartment developments. He believes banks would start being less patient with struggling property investors.
“Just reading between the lines, it seems like there will probably be less flexibility for investors,” he says. “It’s a net negative for the housing market but I think the impact will be quite localised.”
Like the banks, Lawless believes the broader property market has enough momentum to offset the impact of loan deferrals ending, but he does not think the pace of price growth can continue for much longer.
It is clearly not sustainable for Australia to continue notching up the fastest growth in house prices since the 1980s at a time when household incomes are not rising. It will simply get too expensive for buyers to keep bidding up prices.
The end of JobKeeper and other government schemes, including building grant program HomeBuilder, are also likely to temper the red-hot demand for housing in the months ahead.
Article written by The Age Business Reporter Clancy Yeates
Source: The Age Online