The Financial System Inquiry’s Interim Report released yesterday confirms what we already know – Australia’s tax system is broken as it encourages risky leveraged and speculative investment that will one day come back to bite Australia hard and “compromise the speed of a subsequent recovery in economic activity”.
The report takes aim at negative gearing and the fifty percent capital gains discount that when combined has seen Australian households take on significant unsustainable leverage since 1999.
“Certain tax and regulatory settings distort households’ saving decisions towards housing, for both owner-occupiers and investors. Tax incentives also encourage investors to use more leverage than otherwise might be the case. Since the Wallis Inquiry, the increase in housing debt and banks’ more concentrated exposure to mortgages mean that housing has become a significant source of systemic risk”
The report indicates that increased finance to the unproductive housing sector may crowd out funding for other more productive sectors such as business at the detriment of the Australian economy.
It also goes some way to model and explain the possible consequences:
Housing is also a potential source of systemic risk for the financial system and the economy. Since the Wallis Inquiry, the increase in households’ mortgage indebtedness has been accompanied by banks allocating a greater proportion of their loan book to mortgages; the share of loans for housing has increased from 47 per cent in 1997 to its current share of 66 per cent. A large enough disruption to the housing market could have significant implications for household balance sheets, financial stability, economic growth, and the speed of recovery in household spending and broader economic activity following a shock.
As discussed in the Stability chapter, the FSI Secretariat conducted an analysis of a number of scenarios (Box 5.3). One of the scenarios considered the effect of a shock that resulted in a sharp and prolonged fall in house prices. In this scenario, household wealth would contract and there would be broader and, potentially, long-lasting effects on the economy and financial system. A sharp fall in house prices could push some households into negative equity and would amplify financial distress associated with any broader economic downturn. Deleveraging, combined with lower consumer confidence, would weigh on household consumption and broader economic growth. The extent of the damage to households’ balance sheets would determine, to a large degree, the speed of recovery of household consumption.
An extreme shock of this nature would also affect the quality of banks’ balance sheets and their capacity to extend new credit. This would include business lending, particularly for small businesses — which tend to use housing as collateral. Offshore wholesale funding would be likely to become more expensive and some banks might find it more difficult to raise funds, which would exacerbate pressures on the cost and availability of bank credit. Overall, the deterioration in bank balance sheets would compromise the speed of a subsequent recovery in economic activity.