APRA announces further measures on investor lending

Additional supervisory measures on mortgage lending have been announced, particularly for interest-only lending, to reinforce “sound residential mortgage lending practices in an environment of heightened risks”.

The latest measures build on those communicated to authorised deposit-taking institutions (ADIs) in December 2014, aimed at improving the quality of new mortgage lending generally and moderating the growth of investor lending in particular. 

Since December 2014, APRA, together with Council of Financial Regulators (CFR) members, has closely monitored residential mortgage lending trends and the resulting impacts on the resilience of lenders, as well as the household sector more broadly.

According to the regulator, this increased scrutiny has been in response to “an environment of heightened risks, reflected in an environment of high housing prices, high and rising household indebtedness, subdued household income growth, historically low interest rates, and strong competitive pressures”.

APRA has therefore written to ADIs today advising that it expects the banks to:

  • limit the flow of new interest-only lending to 30 per cent of total new residential mortgage lending, and within that:
    • place strict internal limits on the volume of interest-only lending at loan-to-value ratios (LVRs) above 80 per cent; and
    • ensure there is strong scrutiny and justification of any instances of interest-only lending at an LVR above 90 per cent;
  • manage lending to investors in such a manner so as to comfortably remain below the previously advised benchmark of 10 per cent growth;
  • review and ensure that serviceability metrics, including interest rate and net income buffers, are set at appropriate levels for current conditions; and
  • continue to restrain lending growth in higher risk segments of the portfolio (e.g. high loan-to-income loans, high LVR loans, and loans for very long terms).

APRA chairman Wayne Byres said that APRA believes the 10 per cent benchmark for growth in lending to investors continues to provide an appropriate constraint in the current environment, balancing the need to continue to moderate new investor lending with the increasing supply of newly completed construction which must be absorbed in the year ahead.

“APRA expects ADIs to target a level of investor lending growth that allows them to comfortably manage normal monthly volatility in lending flows without exceeding this benchmark level,” he said.

“Our objective with these new measures is to ensure lenders are recognising the heightened risk in the lending environment, and that their lending standards and practices appropriately respond to these conditions.”

Mr Byres added that lending on interest-only terms represents nearly 40 per cent of the stock of residential mortgage lending by ADIs – a share that is quite high by international and historical standards.

“APRA views a higher proportion of interest-only lending in the current environment to be indicative of a higher risk profile. We will therefore be monitoring the share of interest-only lending within total new mortgage lending for each ADI, and will consider the need to impose additional requirements on an ADI when the proportion of new lending on interest-only terms exceeds 30 per cent of total new mortgage lending.

“APRA has chosen not to set quantitative limits in relation to serviceability assessments at this point in time. However, APRA considers it important that borrowers retain some level of financial buffer to allow for unexpected events, especially for borrowers that have high levels of indebtedness.

“APRA will therefore continue to scrutinise serviceability assessments, and ADIs continue to need to advise APRA should they propose to change their existing methodologies or policies,” Mr Byres said.

The regulator has advised ADIs that it is also monitoring the growth in warehouse facilities provided by ADIs to other lenders. These facilities allow lenders to build a portfolio of loans that will eventually be securitised.

“APRA would be concerned if these warehouse facilities were growing at a materially faster rate than an ADI’s own housing loan portfolio, or if lending standards for loans held within warehouses are of a materially lower quality than would be consistent with industry-wide sound practices,” Mr Byres said.

He added that APRA continues to monitor the prevalence of higher risk mortgage lending more generally, including lending at high loan-to-income ratios, lending at a high loan-to-valuation ratios, and lending at very long terms or with long interest-only periods (e.g. beyond five years). 

APRA said it will continue to observe conditions in the residential mortgage lending market, and may adjust the above measures, or implement additional ones, should circumstances warrant it.

[Related: Analysis: APRA action and bank rate hikes]

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Annie Kane

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