Digital Finance Analytics (DFA) has released its February 2019 mortgage stress survey, which reveals that the pressure on Australian households continues to grow, weighed down by weak wages growth, growing debt burdens, and plummeting property values:
Unfortunately, the pressure on households continues to rise as weak ongoing wages growth is not offsetting costs of living, and mortgage repayments and total debt still grows. In addition, the number of households in severe stress continues to rise, suggesting a lift in potential defaults later.
The latest RBA data on household debt to income to September fell a little to 188.6, but still remains highly elevated. The housing debt ratio continues to climb to a new record of 139.6, according to the RBA. This shows that household debt to income is still increasing.
This is confirmed by the latest financial aggregates recently released by the RBA, to end January 2019, with owner occupied lending still growing significantly faster than inflation at 6.2%.
This high debt level helps to explain the fact that mortgage stress continues to rise.
Across Australia, more than 1,036,214 households are estimated to be now in mortgage stress (last month 1,026,106), another new record. This equates to more than 31% of owner occupied borrowing households. In addition, more than 28,903 of these are in severe stress (last month 25,750). We estimate that more than 66,000 households risk 30-day default in the next 12 months, up 3,000 from last month. We continue to see the impact of flat wages growth, rising living costs and higher real mortgage rates. Bank losses are likely to rise a little ahead.
Our analysis uses the DFA core market model which combines information from our 52,000 household surveys, public data from the RBA, ABS and APRA; and private data from lenders and aggregators. The data is current to the end of February 2019. We analyse household cash flow based on real incomes, outgoings and mortgage repayments, rather than using an arbitrary 30% of income.
Households are defined as “stressed” when net income (or cash flow) does not cover ongoing costs. They may or may not have access to other available assets, and some have paid ahead, but households in mild stress have little leeway in their cash flows, whereas those in severe stress are unable to meet repayments from current income. In both cases, households manage this deficit by cutting back on spending, putting more on credit cards and seeking to refinance, restructure or sell their home. Those in severe stress are more likely to be seeking hardship assistance and are often forced to sell.
Despite the oft repeated view that household finances are fine, the continued accumulation of larger mortgages compared to income whilst costs are rising and incomes static explains the issues we are now seeing.
Housing credit growth is running significantly faster than incomes and inflation, and continued rises in living costs – notably child care, school fees and electricity prices are causing significant pain, this despite some relief at the bowser. Many continue to dip into savings to support their finances. We are seeing a rise in households seeking help with their finances, including access to debt counsellors and other advice channels. WA is seeing very strong growth in cries for help, but pain in NSW is also on the rise.
Indeed, the fact that significant numbers of households have had their potential borrowing power crimped by lending standards belatedly being tightened, and are therefore mortgage prisoners, is significant. “More than 40% of those seeking to refinance are now having difficulty. This is strongly aligned to those who are registering as stressed. These are households urgently trying to reduce their monthly outgoings”.
The next question to consider is which households are being impacted. In fact, negative equity is touching “lots of different segments” of the market for different reasons, but collectively it is an “early warning sign” for what is to come.
Probability of default extends our mortgage stress analysis by overlaying economic indicators such as employment, future wage growth and cpi changes. Our Core Market Model also examines the potential of portfolio risk of loss in basis point and value terms. Losses are likely to be higher among more affluent households, contrary to the popular belief that affluent households are well protected. This is shown in the segment analysis below:
Stress by the numbers.
Regional analysis shows that NSW has 286,469 households in stress (282,165 last month), VIC 278,091 (278,860 last month), QLD 185,424 (185,493 last month) and WA has 139,142 (139,621 last month). The probability of default over the next 12 months rose, with around 12,500 in WA, around 12,100 in QLD, 16,800 in VIC and 17,700 in NSW.
The largest financial losses relating to bank write-offs reside in NSW ($1.1 billion) from Owner Occupied borrowers) and VIC ($1.49 billion) from Owner Occupied Borrowers, though losses are likely to be highest in WA at 3.3 basis points, which equates to $1,048 million from Owner Occupied borrowers.
A fuller regional breakdown is set out below.
And here is a list of the highest count of stressed households by post code across the country.