No doubt regulators, today, wish they were not sleeping at the wheel as the challenge on what to do with the world’s second largest residential property bubble start to mount.
The Council of Financial Regulators – comprising of the Reserve Bank of Australia (Chair), the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission and the Treasury – are working diligently on measures aimed to try to bring the unbalanced investor led Melbourne and Sydney property bubbles under control, before it starts to undermine the banking system.
It is understood, slightly less senior members of each council agency are on a working group determining and risk assessing the most appropriate measures and reporting back to the council. The council is expected to brief Treasurer Joe Hockey of their proposal prior to execution.
Earlier this month, Assistant RBA governor Malcolm Edey optimistically said to expect an announcement before the end of the year, however APRA chairman Wayne Byres wasn’t as convincing as he told a Senate Economics committee on Wednesday, it hasn’t reached a point where we have decided anything, going as far to say “it might be nothing.”
One of the challenges of the Macroprudential policy framework is accurately targeting the risky activity without shifting the problem elsewhere. The council has risky loans provided to naive and overconfident property investor’s firmly in its sight. Currently investor loans make up almost half of all lending. It certainly does not want to introduce policy to hinder dwindling first home buyers.
“We’re keeping a close eye on the build up of credit to investors in the housing market, not to owner-occupiers per se and certainly not to first home buyers. They’re not the issue,” said RBA governor Glenn Stevens.
Another challenge for regulators is targeting the specific problem markets. While Australia has a sizeable housing bubble in all states and territories, the current concern is the unsustainable activity in both the Sydney and Melbourne markets. “What the community wants is sustainable competition and sustainable growth, not something that accelerates through the roof and then drops through the floor,” said Wayne Byres.
The most recent data from the Domain Group (formally Australian Property Monitors) suggest house prices are starting to correct in the rest of the country. In the September quarter, Canberra home prices recorded a 1.7 percent fall, followed by Perth with a 1.5 percent decline, Hobart and Brisbane both recorded drops of 1.3 percent and Adelaide fell 1.0 percent.
It is widely expected the regulators will decide to impose capital charges on higher risk investor loans, especially interest only loans. This would require the bank to hold more loss absorbing capital and would likely pass this on to the borrower though higher interest charges. On Wednesday, Wayne Byres said in his opening statement to the Senate standing committee on economics:
First, within our regulatory framework APRA generally seeks to avoid outright prohibitions on activities where possible: instead, our regulatory philosophy is to focus on institutions’ setting their own appetite for risk. We also use the regulatory capital framework to create incentives for prudent lending and ensure that, while institutions remain free to decide their lending parameters, those undertaking higher risk activities do so with commensurately higher capital requirements.
» Banking regulator outlines likely response to housing investor surge – The ABC, 24th October 2014.
» Bank debt ratios expose Basel’s faulty risk weightings – The ABC, 8th October 2014.
» APRA warns bank lending standards are being stretched – The Sydney Morning Herald, 23rd October 2014.
» APRA ready to act on housing – The Australian, 11th October 2014.