House price surge not a bubble, LVRs not justified, bankers lobby says

Surging prices for Auckland and Christchurch real estate do not constitute a housing market bubble because bank lending volumes have been plummeting for the last two months, says the executive director of the New Zealand Bankers Association, Kirk Hope.

Political debate has raged this week over the impact on first home buyers if the Reserve Bank of New Zealand imposes restrictions on high loan-to-value ratio lending next month, as is widely tipped.

Hope told BusinessDesk the conditions justifying a move to restricting high LVR lending requires two market conditions – rising prices and rising lending.

However, RBNZ home lending figures released on the central bank’s website yesterday and labelled “experimental”, show the rate of home loan approvals turned negative for the first time since July 2011, after a prolonged period of deep downturn in approvals at the height the recession in 2010.

Approvals had been growing at more than 23 percent as recently as the 13 weeks to Nov 23..

“At the moment, we don’t think that the numbers demonstrate that a move on LVRs is necessary,” Hope said. “A demonstration of a bubble would be very rapid credit expansion.”

The series compares growth in the number and value of home loan approvals over the previous 13 weeks, compared to the same 13 weeks a year earlier. That approach picks up seasonal effects, such as the normal fall in sales between summer and winter months.

The changes showing up in recent weeks were far out of line with a normal seasonal slowdown, said Hope.

In the 13 weeks to July 12, total home loan approvals fell 2.1 percent compared to the same period in 2012, whereas approval rates were showing growth of 23 percent-plus for the 13 weeks to Nov. 23. The value of approvals at $1.143 billion in the 13 weeks to July 12 was consistent with the last few weeks’ tallies, but the year on year rate of value approval growth suddenly slowed to 3.2 percent, compared to 22.9 percent at February 22.

The figures suggested a large number of borrowers shopping around and refinancing existing mortgages amid competition among lenders as borrowers move off floating rate loans to fixed rates in the expectation that interest rates have bottomed out.

Hope warned that banks would also need enough time to communicate and retrain staff at branches all around the country if new lending regulations were imposed.

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