Earlier today the Reserve Bank decided to keep the official cash rate unchanged at 1.0%, which in truth isn’t much of a surprise. Meanwhile, mortgage lending activity in August was pretty stable too, with owner-occupiers driving the market but investors more subdued. The LVR speed limits are seemingly having quite a strong effect on investors. However, there may be respite on the horizon, with a potential loosening of the rules in November.

CoreLogic Senior Property Economist Kelvin Davidson writes:

Official cash rate on hold at 1.0%, but watch for cut on November 13th…

The first key piece of news from the Reserve Bank (RBNZ) today was the decision to hold the official cash rate (OCR) unchanged at 1.0%, having surprised the markets by cutting it from 1.5% back on 7th August. Although you can never say never with this Governor and Committee, a cut was always unlikely today. However, with signs that general (CPI) price pressures are still pretty subdued and that the economy has perhaps lost a little momentum, there’s a decent chance that we’ll see a 0.75% OCR at the next meeting on 13th November.

Mortgage lending activity stable…

Hot on the heels of the OCR decision, the RBNZ has also just published the latest mortgage lending figures for August. The figures showed $5.4bn of lending last month, unchanged from a year earlier. That seems to have been a bit of ‘payback’ for a stronger month in July. Owner-occupiers are still driving activity, with investors more subdued (see the first chart).

Annual change in lending, $m (Source: RBNZ)

First home buyers are still recording the fastest growth in lending flows amongst owner-occupiers, but all others within that group are also just starting to show a tentative pick-up in the pace of growth (see the second chart). Generally speaking, the number of loans is still pretty flat, so the increases in the value of lending are being driven by larger average loans.

Annual change in lending, % in past 12 months compared to previous 12 months (Source: RBNZ)

In terms of the LVR speed limits, owner-occupier lending at <20% deposit is still running at 12-13% of activity, comfortably below the 20% speed limit (and even the self-imposed 15% that banks reportedly choose to adhere to). Yet with overall lending to owner-occupiers still growing, this suggests that most borrowers are able to find a sufficient deposit and the speed limit isn’t really a restraint at present. The story seems to be different for investors, however. Their overall borrowing activity is still pretty soft, and only about 1% of lending to investors is at less than a 30% deposit (see the third chart). This hints at a restraint from the speed limit, and hence could be a key group that would benefit from a potential loosening of the LVR rules in November (perhaps by raising their speed limit from 5% to 10%).

Proportion of lending at high LVRs (Source: RBNZ)

Overall, then, given that mortgage rates remain very low (and have even edged a bit lower over the past month or so), stable lending activity would be in line with expectations. Meanwhile, over the final week or two of August, the banks began to loosen their internal 7-8% serviceability tests, which will have given a little more impetus to borrowers – and there surely has to be a good chance that this will have continued in September (lending figures for this month due 24th October).

The key factor to keep in mind for 2020 is the looming, extra bank capital requirements and what that might mean for mortgage rates – potentially they may start to rise. As the fourth chart shows, the bulk of mortgages in NZ are on fixed rates, which will shelter borrowers for a period of time. But that clearly won’t be forever, and so market activity could well face some stronger headwinds later next year and into 2021.

Share of mortgages fixed and floating (Source: RBNZ)