Mortgage arrears rise to highest level in years

The proportion of Australian residential mortgages that are more than 30 days in arrears has risen to “the highest level in three years” and will only “continue to rise”, a report has revealed.

A recent Sector In-Depth report from Moody’s Investors Service found that the increase in mortgage arrears rose to 1.5 per cent in the year ending 31 May 2016, up from 1.34 per cent the year before and increasing the risk of mortgage defaults and the number of credit negative Australian residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS).

The report noted that “the impact of lower commodity prices, rising underemployment and a less favourable housing market are said to have had a negative influence on the ability of borrowers to meet mortgage payments, leading to higher delinquencies”.

Mortgage performance “deteriorated” in all eight states and territories over the year to 31 May, with regions and postcodes exposed to the resource and mining sectors dominating the list of areas with the highest rate of mortgage delinquencies.

Following the end of the mining boom in 2014, Western Australia “fared the worst” in terms of mortgage performance, with the 30 days and over delinquency rate increasing by 0.69 per cent to 2.33 per cent overall.

The report also noted that as the Western Australian economy is “heavily reliant on the resources sector” that “relatively poorer economic and housing market conditions in Western Australia contributed to the historically high level”.

The Northern Territory and Tasmania also hit “record high levels”, as the domestic economy (excluding exports) decreased by 13.5 per cent during the last financial year, while the unemployment rate increasing to 7.2 per cent, alongside a fall of 0.5 per cent in average weekly earnings in Tasmania contributed to the state’s high levels or mortgage arrears.

In other parts of the country, mortgage arrears rose in Queensland by 1.75 per cent, Victoria by 1.46 per cent, South Australia by 1.86 per cent and the ACT by 0.82 per cent over the last year.

Meanwhile, delinquencies in NSW have “fallen notably” over the last three years, as housing rose by 9.39 per cent over the year to 31 August.

In addition to a supportive housing market, mortgage performance in NSW “has benefitted from the good economic and labour market conditions” with low interest rates and a weaker Australian dollar resulting in “strong household consumption, private investment and a pick-up in education and tourism sectors throughout the state”.

“Income growth in Australia has not kept pace with growth in home prices, posing an additional risk to mortgage performance,” the report said.

“Higher debt levels make households more vulnerable to economic or housing market shocks and make meeting mortgage repayments more difficult [and] we expect that mortgage delinquencies will continue to increase moderately for the remainder of 2016.”

[Related: Increasing house value can expose owners to “economic shocks”]

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Tamikah Bretzke

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