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Reserve Bank keeps LVR restrictions

Housing risks remain; dairy a concern - Wheeler

Paul McBeth
Wed, 12 Nov 2014

The Reserve Bank will retain restrictions on low-equity mortgage lending because governor Graeme Wheeler continues to see risks in the housing market, particularly given strong migration flows. The bank is also concerned that a reduced dairy payout is a growing threat to the nation's financial stability.

The loan-to-value ratio restrictions, limiting the amount private banks can lend on a house with a deposit of 20 percent or less, have helped cool a buoyant property market since they were imposed in October last year, and higher interest rates have added to the slowdown, the central bank said in its six-monthly financial stability report. The success in slowing house price inflation had some economists picking the winding back of the policy, though Wheeler today said risks still remained and it was prudent to keep the restrictions in place.

"There remains a risk of a resurgence in house price inflation, particularly in light of strong immigration flows," Wheeler said in a statement. "Consequently, we do not consider it appropriate to ease the LVR speed at this time."

The central bank has been surprised by the limited inflationary effect strong net migration flows have had on the economy, as increased numbers of new migrants and returning kiwis have largely been a different demographic to the typical house buyer, while an expanding labour force is keeping wages growth low.

New Zealand house price inflation rose was an annual 5 percent in the three months ended Sept. 30, slowing from a 9.4 percent rate a year earlier, with the level of new low equity lending falling to 7.3 percent from 24.4 percent before the restrictions were imposed. The bank said the restrictions had a more pronounced impact on first-home buyers, with about 35 percent of high-LVR lending to prospective new entrants, and the rest to other owner-occupiers.

A key condition for the removal of the policy is a "sustained moderation in house price inflation to about the same rate of growth in household incomes," and while there has been a slow-down, the bank said there is still a risk of a resurgence in demand.

"A significant gap between the projected requirement for new housing and the available supply of housing is expected to persist for some time," the bank said in its report. "Further, with net immigration at high levels and mortgage rates still historically low, there remains a risk of a resurgence in housing market pressures."

While New Zealand's overall financial system remained sound, risks in the dairy sector increased as plunging global milk prices prompted a reduced forecast payout to farmers by Fonterra Cooperative Group. The world's biggest dairy exporter expects to pay $5.30 per kilogram of milk solids, down from $8.40 a year earlier, and the lowest payout in six years. .

"The forecast dairy payout for the coming season has been reduced significantly, and could result in rising loan defaults should the lower payout level persist," deputy governor Grant Spencer said in a statement.

Fonterra is holding its annual meeting in Palmerston North today, and is expected to update farmers on the global outlook for milk prices. Chief executive Theo Spierings has previously said the forecast is predicated on a recovery in whole milk prices.

The Reserve Bank expects dairy prices to recovery early next year, supported by growing Chinese demand, though it said there is a risk of protracted weakness if global supply keeps expanding or if China takes longer to resume its forward purchasing.

Farmers had used last year's high price to repay debt, and the early signalling gave them time to manage down their costs, which helps mitigate the threat posed by the dairy sector.

The Reserve Bank said farms using intensive methods on more marginal land and less able to substitute to feed produced on their own farms were particularly vulnerable, with limited scope to manage the downturn, and highly indebted farmers were likely to experience negative cash flow on the lower payout.

Other risks to the country's financial system were an abrupt slowdown in the Chinese economy, which accounts for about 19 percent of New Zealand's exports, and local lenders' reliance on overseas funding, leaving them vulnerable to change in the cost and availability of credit.


Paul McBeth
Wed, 12 Nov 2014
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Reserve Bank keeps LVR restrictions