How much more financial pressure can Australian mortgagees take?
Talk to anyone on the street these days and the conversation will inevitably turn to how inflation is increasing their cost of living in some form or another. Inflation has risen steadily since the beginning of 2022 despite the determined efforts of Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) to bring it back towards its target range of 2-3 per cent.
In less than 1 year and 11 interest rate rises later, official interest rates have risen from 0.10 per cent to 3.85 per cent but inflation remains stubbornly high at 7 per cent. Interest rates have never risen this fast before nor from such a historically low level either.
As previously outlined in an earlier blog entry on Commonwealth Bank (ASX:CBA), the big four banks of Australia have just under 80 per cent of the residential property mortgage loan market. In “normal” economic times of rising interest rates, banks should be natural beneficiaries of these conditions. However, these are not normal times.
The business model of banks has generally stayed the same for centuries, i.e. borrow money from one source at a low interest rate and lend it to a customer at a higher rate. Today, the Australian banks generally get their funding from wholesale and retail sources. However, the banks were offered a one-off funding source from the RBA called the Term Funding Facility (TFF) during the COVID-19 period to support the economy. This started in April 2020, priced at an unprecedented low fixed rate of 0.10 per cent for 3 years with the last drawdown accepted in June 2021 for a total of $188 billion. Fast forward to today and the first drawdowns from this temporary facility have already started to roll-off which means that these fund sources need to be replaced with one of considerably more expensive sources, namely wholesale funding or retail deposits. As a result of this change in funding, bank CEOs have unanimously declared that net interest margins, and hence its effect on bank earnings, have peaked for this cycle despite speculation that interest rates may still rise later in the year.
Prior to the start of the roll-off of TFF drawdowns, the entire Australian banking industry engaged in cutthroat competition for new and refinancing mortgage loans in a bid to maintain or grow market share. In the aftermath of the bank reporting season, two of the big four banks have stated they are no longer pursuing market share at any price, with CBA and National Australia Bank (ASX:NAB) announcing they will scrap their refinancing cashback offers after 1 June and 30 June respectively.
Turning our attention back to the average Australian, the big bank mortgage customers have been remarkably resilient. The Australian dream of owning the house you live in is still alive for now, with owners willing to endure significant lifestyle changes in a bid to keep up with mortgage payments. The big banks have reflected this phenomenon with a reduction in individual loan provisions and only a modest increase in collective loan provisions.
Time will tell how much more financial pressure Australian mortgagees can take, especially with the RBA still undecided on the future trajectory of interest rates. What has been agreed on by the big banks, is that things are not going to get easier. At least not in the short-term.
The Montgomery Funds own shares in the Commonwealth Bank of Australia and National Australia Bank. This article was prepared 29 May 2023 with the information we have today, and our view may change. It does not constitute formal advice or professional investment advice. If you wish to trade these companies you should seek financial advice.