Debt

Further deceleration in the Australian credit impulse – Feb 2017

The latest RBA credit and lending aggregates for Feb 2017 show that the growth in new credit has continued to decelerate.

Total Private Credit – growth in new credit decelerates further in Feb to -$24b

The growth in new credit at the aggregate level (total private sector) began to decelerate sharply from April 2016. Since then, the annual growth in new credit has gone from +$30b in April 2016 to -$24b as of the latest February 2017 data. This is now approaching the lows reached in mid-2013:-

Source: RBA, The Macroeconomic Project

The main driver of this slowing growth in new credit has been business credit, which has continued to slow since June 2016. The growth in new credit for mortgages started to accelerate in November 2016, but this has not been large enough to offset the deceleration in business credit growth.

Progressively smaller increments in the growth in new credit are likely to result in lower spending and growth. Consider that the annual growth in the stock of total private credit in February 2016 was $161.9b and this annual growth in credit slowed to $137.9b in February 2017 – overall, this is -$24b less annual credit growth in the economy. This equates to approx. -1.4% of nominal GDP.

Given the recent strength in economic growth data (which is so far only the Dec ’16 quarter), the question is whether other sources of spending growth, such as income, are accelerating to offset this deceleration in total private credit growth.

Read more on the Australian Debt and Credit Impulse page of this blog.

The credit impulse for Australia remains in neutral – Feb 2016

I’ve just updated the Australian Debt & Credit Impulse page of this blog with the latest trends on the 1) credit impulse and 2) overall debt levels in Australia. You can read all of the background on the credit impulse and its importance on that page too. I thought it worthwhile posting the top line view of the annual growth in new credit for the private sector.

Private sector growth in new credit going sideways – February 2016

Overall momentum in the annual growth in new credit for total private sector credit remains fairly neutral. This highlights that the lack of acceleration in credit growth is likely to continue contributing to slower spending growth.

Annual growth in new credit for the total private sector remains at $26b, nearly 50% below the peak reached in Oct 2014. The current level of growth equates to roughly 1.6% of annual GDP (at Dec 2015). This is within -1 SD of the average growth in new credit over the last year and highlights the overall lack of credit acceleration at a total level.

Source: RBA, The Macroeconomic Project

The trend in the annual growth of new credit for the two main elements, Business and Mortgage+Personal, differ somewhat.

Annual growth in new credit for Mortgage+Personal peaked back in August 2015 at $22b. This has slowed to $12b as of Feb 2016. In historical terms, the growth in new credit for mortgages remains very high. But for this measure, it is the slope of the curve that matters – and in this case it is negative. This will likely place continued pressure on further acceleration of house prices at an aggregate level.

The annual growth in new credit for Business looks slightly more positive over the last six months, but that growth has also stopped accelerating over the last two months. From the low of $7b back in June 2015, annual growth in new credit for Business is now at $14b (slightly down from its peak in Dec 2015 of $18b). This more neutral level of annual growth in new credit for Business is not supportive of accelerating levels of growth in aggregate demand in the coming months. This is consistent with reports of lower expected investment spending by business.

As of Feb 2016, Australia has $2.53t in total private debt outstanding. This represents $161.2b annual growth in outstanding debt (just the change in the total value of the outstanding stock of debt between Feb 15 and Feb 16). In nominal terms, this is the largest annual change since Oct 2008. The majority of the current $161.2b increase in the stock of total private debt is attributed to the increase in outstanding mortgage debt of $110b. Outstanding business debt grew by $54.6b and outstanding ‘other personal’ debt declined by $3.4b. Mortgages represent 61% of outstanding private debt in Australia.

In real terms, total Private debt to GDP for Australia currently sits at 140.6% and is approx. 9% below the all-time peak reached in November 2008.

Source: RBA, ABS, The Macroeconomic Project

You can read more detail here.

Transitioning well? Australian GDP & National Income – Dec 2015

At first glance, the data relating to the 4th quarter GDP was fairly straightforward. The Australian economy grew by +0.6% in the final quarter of 2015, better than the +0.4% growth expected, but well down on the previous quarter. The upward revision to the previous September quarter growth from +0.94% to +1.09% growth resulted in annual GDP growth upgraded to +2.96%. This bumped up annual GDP growth to just above average trend growth for the last 10 years. This got quite a few people excited and soon many had jumped back onto the bandwagon that the economy is transitioning well out of the mining boom. It’s always worth looking deeper into the drivers of growth and this quarter is no exception. Whilst this isn’t a bad result at all, there is still enough in the data to challenge the narrative that Australia is transitioning well.

December 2015 quarterly real GDP growth +0.63%

Despite being well down on the previous quarter, GDP growth for the December quarter was very much in line with the average for the last 10 years. This is clearly not a bad result looking at the quarterly results over the last 20 years.

Source: ABS

Of all the components that make up GDP, household consumption spending made the largest contribution to GDP growth on both an annual and quarterly basis.

Source: ABS

Household spending contributed over half of the growth for the year and two thirds of the growth for the quarter. It didn’t take long before this was labelled the ‘strength in the household sector’. I’ll come back to this point later.

Government consumption expenditure and net exports both made a strong positive contribution for the year, but barely contributed to growth in the latest quarter.

Private investment continued to go backwards for the year and the quarter, but government investment spending made a surprise and welcome positive contribution to growth in the latest quarter.

Inventories made a positive contribution in both the quarter and the year. Inventories represent work in progress, materials and finished goods etc. that are owned by the business, whether they are held at the business premises or elsewhere and are recorded at book value at the end of the quarter. It’s difficult to pinpoint what this means – either inventories were ramped up on higher demand expectations or lower than expected sales resulted in increased inventories. The higher contribution is the result of the ‘change in inventories’ going from negative in the previous quarter to positive in the latest quarter.

But real National Income keeps falling

Real GDP growth is a measure of the growth in the underlying output of the economy. But National Income is a better measure of the income derived from/generated by that output. The ABS recommends Real Net National Disposable Income (RNNDI) as the best measure of changes in our “economic wellbeing”. This measure “adjusts the volume measure of GDP for the terms of trade effect, real net incomes from overseas and consumption of fixed capital” (source: ABS). Using this measure, National Income continued its recent decline, falling another -1.1% for the year and -0.1% for the quarter. A big driver of this decline was the latest 12% fall in our terms of trade (ToT).

The real NNDI measure isn’t broken down into its component parts so that we can understand where/what part of National Income is driving this decline. There are several elements that make up the National Income figure – employee compensation, the gross operating surplus (corporate profit proxy) and gross mixed income (surplus/deficit from the operations of smaller unincorporated enterprises). In order to go to this more detailed level, I need to revert to Gross National Income (GNI) in current prices (nominal). In real terms national income is falling. But in nominal terms, gross national income is growing at +2.6%.

I’ve used the chart below before because it provides perspective on how much our National Income growth has slowed over the last five (5) years.

Each bar represents the annual growth in Gross National Income and shows how each component has contributed to growth in that year. Whilst National Income growth, and the contribution from its component parts, is not on its lows, it hasn’t accelerated higher in the latest year either (and we know that in real terms, National Income is declining).


Source: ABS 5206.11

The annual rate of growth in GNI has remained fairly stable over the last two quarters. But a different picture emerges when you look at the quarter on quarter growth rates.

The latest quarter National Income growth is slowing

The December quarter growth was in fact slower than in the previous quarter. The chart below looks at the same National Income components, but using the quarter on quarter growth for the last eight (8) quarters:-

Source: ABS

There are two important points I want to make about the December quarter results.

Firstly, there was a larger contribution from ‘Gross Operating Surplus’ (GOS) in the December quarter (orange bars in the chart above).

This needs to be broken down further because it doesn’t tell us much in aggregate. The GOS is the sum of private, public and financial corporation surplus (a profit proxy), general government surplus and the surplus generated by dwellings owned by persons. Here is how each of those components has contributed to growth over the last eight (8) quarters:

Source: ABS 5206.07 – the sum of these components represent the “GOS” component of National Income.

The contribution from General Government and Dwellings is fairly consistent. Business profitability, on the other hand, tells us something important about the trading environment.

According to the National Accounts, in the chart above, private non-financial corporations have made the largest contribution to growth only in the last two quarters (light blue bars), which is a large turnaround in performance compared to the prior six (6) quarters. This is the single largest component of the GOS and is probably the most important to look at in relation to underlying business conditions. We know that Mining has a large influence on the outcome of this measure. The ‘Mining’ industry accounts for a substantial 26% of corporate profits (Source: 5675.11) – no other industry group comes close to this.

According to the data in 5675.11 Business Indicators, the performance of Mining in the Sept quarter (versus the June quarter) was actually positive and which made a large contribution to the positive shift in corporate profits. But according to the same data source, Mining profits fell again in the December quarter. That would then mean that Non-Mining business profits would have had to have accelerated in the December quarter in order for total private non-financial corporations to continue to make a positive contribution overall (again I’m referring to the December quarter light blue bar in the chart above). This would be an important insight about the performance and transitioning of the economy. So did non-mining profits accelerate?

We can only get down to industry-level data by looking at Company Gross Operating Profits released by the ABS as a part of Business Indicators (5676.11) data release. You can also use 5676.15 – the direction of the data is the same between the two data sources. According to the ABS:

“Company gross operating profits data are used to compile estimates of gross operating surplus of private non-financial corporations” (Source: ABS Business Indicators)

The two measures of company profit aren’t identical, but are very similar. Comparing the results of the two measure over time, there are consistently differences in the rate of growth between the two measures, but rarely do they point in opposite directions/conflict. Except for this quarter.

Breaking down the result by industry in 5676.11 yields a very different result to that of the National Income figures.

At a total industry level, Company Gross Operating Profits declined by -2.8% in the December quarter versus the National Income figures which shows that the Gross Operating Surplus of Private non-financial corporations grew by +0.9%.

According to the data in 5676.11, the decline in Company Gross Operating Profits was driven by both Mining and Non-Mining industries in the latest quarter:-

Source: ABS 5676.11

The only quarter where Mining profits were positive was in the Sept 15 quarter, which is consistent with the stronger results in the Sept quarter.

Non-Mining is the big news here – corporate profit growth has deteriorated in the last two quarters, so much so that Non-Mining Company Gross Operating Profits declined in the December quarter. So if both Mining & Non-Mining profits declined in the latest quarter according to the Business Indicators data (5676.11), then how can the similar measure of “Private Non-Financial Corporations GOS” from 5206.07) make a larger positive contribution to National Income growth in the latest quarter?

From the ABS website (Business Indicators 5676 page):-

COMPARISON BETWEEN COMPANY GROSS OPERATING PROFITS AND GROSS OPERATING SURPLUS

Valuation changes have had an impact on the value of inventories held by Australian businesses this quarter. An inventories valuation adjustment (IVA) is applied in the calculation of the gross operating surplus of private non-financial corporations (GOS) estimate in the Australian National Accounts. The IVA for the December quarter 2015 is -$1,369m which is $1,974m lower than the September quarter 2015 IVA of $605m.

No adjustment is made to the company gross operating profits (CGOP) estimate in this publication and, as a result, users should exercise caution when comparing CGOP and GOS (my emphasis). It should be noted that there are other differences between the two series. In particular, changes are made to GOS when annual benchmarks are applied and slightly different seasonal factors apply to the two series. Given this, while CGOP movements are an appropriate indicator for GOS, the two series will not have equivalent seasonally adjusted movements from quarter to quarter. (Source: ABS – Business Indicators Dec 2015)

So comparison between the two measures is problematic. If no adjustment has been made to the CGOP in Business Indicators, then did the application of a lower inventory valuation actually increase the GOS in the National Accounts in the latest quarter? Could differences in seasonal adjustment account for all of the difference? Which indicator is then the more accurate representation of underlying business profit performance? As mentioned, non-mining industry performance is an important indicator for how the economy is really transitioning.

At best there is a question over the real direction of profit growth at an industry level. I have put this to the ABS for clarification.

The second point relates to the slow-down in growth of Compensation of Employees.

Employee compensation is the largest proportion of National Income at 50% and provides some basic context for the scope of spending growth in the economy.

The accelerating growth in employee compensation since the December 14 quarter has been consistent with an improving labour market at the same time. Except in the latest quarter, when growth in compensation more than halved between the two quarters.

Source: ABS 5206.44

I’ve compared the growth in Sept (Sep v June) and Dec (Dec v Sep) by state (5206.44) in the chart below. Breaking the data down to state level gives some indication of performance differences between mining and non-mining states. It’s not a perfect proxy.

Only in WA and ACT did the growth in compensation of employees improve over the last two quarters. In WA, the best thing you can say is that employee compensation didn’t continue to fall.

Source: ABS 5206.44

Most of the slow down between the two quarters can be attributed to the private sector which accounted for two thirds of the slow down.

Private sector employee compensation growth slowed the most in NSW – again, the engine room of the so-called transition – from +2.5% to +1.1%. This is actually consistent with my previous labour market update highlighting that NSW labour market was no longer looking as strong as it had been.

VIC had the highest quarterly rate of employee compensation growth in December of all the states. Although growth has been slowing for two quarters now, it is still around the average:-

Source: ABS

The main problem state is QLD – the decline in private sector compensation of employees has been accelerating over the last two quarters – the first time since the GFC:-

Source: ABS 5206.44

This is unfortunately at odds with the previous labour market update, which showed employment growth in QLD still at its peak as of the end of 2015.

The situation is similar in South Australia – private sector employee compensation growth has slowed over the last three quarters and has now turned negative in the December quarter.

Growth in employee compensation in WA has been negative for the last four quarters, but in the latest quarter, it has stopped declining, which means it’s still on its lows. In TAS and NT growth in employee compensation also slowed to virtually zero in the latest qtr.

Only in ACT did the growth in compensation of employees accelerate higher in the latest quarter:-

Source: ABS

Across most of the larger states, growth in employee compensation looks like it is slowing, if not outright declining. I’m using the eastern seaboard states (especially NSW and VIC) as proxies to gauge the ‘transition’ from mining states to non-mining states. The original point was about highlighting the slowdown in employee compensation growth between the two quarters. Most of this slow down can be attributed to NSW, VIC & QLD, with NSW by far the biggest contributor to the slow down between the two quarters. It could be a one off for NSW as there is no established trend there at the moment, but this outcome is consistent with my previous labour market outlook for NSW. This puts a dent in the narrative that the economy is transitioning well.

But there is more.

This slowdown in the growth of employee compensation in the December 15 quarter came at a time when growth in hrs worked has been accelerating higher over the last 3 qtrs. The growth in hours worked in the latest quarter is the second highest since the GFC and growth accelerated from 0.4% in the September quarter to +1.17% in the December quarter.

Source: ABS

This has brought the annual rate of growth close to pre-GFC highs. Growth in hours worked has been accelerating since late 2012.

Source: ABS

Yet, output hasn’t grown along with hours worked. In fact, output per hour worked (labour productivity) has been slowing since late 2012 and has started declining.

Source: ABS

In the December quarter, labour productivity declined by -0.6% to bring the annual decline to -0.4%.

The concept of “unrequited input growth” was raised in a Productivity Commission report into falling Australian productivity (source: Productivity Commission Report, “Australia’s Productivity Growth Slump: Signs of Crisis, Adjustment or both?” April 2012):-

“And so, in proximate terms, the decline in MFP [multi factor productivity] growth was associated with ‘unrequited input growth’ — strong acceleration in input demand that was not matched (or stimulated) by an acceleration in output growth. This is the key to understanding Australia’s much poorer productivity growth. Explanations must tell us why Australian businesses used a lot more inputs, without getting more growth in output ”

This was from a paper written in April 2012, so is not referencing this current labour productivity situation. The quote goes on to say that such a situation is not sustainable:

“The notion of unrequited input acceleration does raise the question of how such a phenomenon could be sustained. Typically, output growth provides the additional income needed to fund additional growth in inputs. Consequently, unrequited input growth does not make financial sense, unless there is another source of income growth. Chapter 2 also shows that profitability not only held up, but actually increased in the 2000s. The extra input accumulation was fuelled at least in part by increased profits and profit expectations. Clearly, productivity was not the source of growth in output and income that it was in the 1990s. Rather, the broad productivity trends of the 2000s seem to have been more the outcome of strong input growth driven by marked changes in prices and profits.”

In other words, the ‘returns’ were generated by increases in, and expected increases in, prices including commodity prices, rather than higher productivity generating greater profits.

We no longer enjoy those ToT benefits. Which brings me back to the idea of sustainability of input growth (increasing hours worked) without getting more output growth as a result. The annual growth in hours worked chart suggests that in recent times, when growth in hours worked has resulted in negative labour productivity, hours worked has started to fall. We are now at that stage of the cycle where labour productivity growth has turned negative and we’ll see whether this higher growth in hours can be sustained.

So far ‘rebalancing’ or transitioning has seen higher hours worked but no discernible increase in output growth, and in fact, if you use the Business Indicators data, declining company profits across mining and non-mining in the latest quarter. In the absence of price growth, this is not likely to be sustainable.

So how can Household consumption be the main driver of economic growth?

My final point on the December GDP result and the idea of the transitioning economy, relates to our single largest driver of economic growth at the moment – households.

The big news from GDP was the strength of household expenditure and its resilience in the face of our transitioning economy.

Whilst the contribution from households is large, the direction of spending growth has remained fairly steady over the last few years – not accelerating growth. The current annual rate of growth in real household consumption expenditure is now +2.9% (+4.6% in nominal terms). On a quarterly basis, growth pulled back only slightly from +0.9% in September to +0.8% in December.

Source: ABS

Compared to recent history, growth in household spending has been growing at a fairly consistent rate of just under 3% for the last 18 months.

This rate of growth is not great when you consider that the rate of household consumption growth has been much higher in previous years. But how could household spending be any higher? The context from National Income shows that employee compensation growth (and wages) has slowed considerably over the last five years and in some states, employee compensation has recently turned negative. This has translated into slowing growth in household gross disposable income as well.

Gross disposable household income growth has been slowing since it peaked in 2007 at +12% annual growth – growth is now running at +3.1%. Adjusted for CPI, gross disposable household income is only growing at 1.4% in real terms. This rate of growth is low and is slowing:-

Source: ABS

Maybe the real question is how household consumption expenditure growth has remained at this constant level while household income growth has been slowing?

One reason is due to falling net household saving. Note that the ‘net savings’ measure is actually a calculation of the difference between income and spending of households. As spending increases faster than income, net saving falls. This is what has been happening since the peak in net household saving since mid-2012. In the last year, net household saving has fallen 15%.

Source: ABS

This fall in net saving is partly funding the growth in household consumption.

The other important source funding household spending growth is household debt. While growth in household disposable income has been slowing and is now at a relatively low point, real mortgage debt as a % of real GDP has been rising to its highest point – accelerating in fact since mid-2014. The stock of outstanding housing debt now represents 85.5% of real GDP (total real private debt represents 140% of real GDP):-

Source: ABS, RBA

Compared to household disposable income, household debt now represents in excess of 175% of disposable income.

It seems we might be pinning our hopes on a transition based on continued spending by households that have been facing lower income growth and greater levels of indebtedness. Whilst the GDP top-line results look good, the underlying factors say that the success of the ‘transition’ is on shaky ground.

Cracks in the foundations of housing finance

The latest raft of housing finance data was released for the month of October last week. On aggregate, growth in housing finance is still strong, which means likely continued growth in house prices in Australia over the next 6-9 months. While the total value of dwellings finance again reached a new all-time high of $23.8b in October, that growth is not broad-based. Growth in housing finance continues to be driven by investor activity, mainly in NSW and VIC, while at the same time, owner occupier activity continues to slow – a trend that is now well in place. An increasing number of questions are being asked about the sustainability of and the risks posed by this level of growth, especially in investor activity. Over the last few weeks, there have been important messages of a shift in the risk profile of our regulators which would impact the growth of housing finance, especially for investment purposes. These include the Murray Inquiry recommendations, APRA increasing its surveillance of mortgage lending practices and the recent announcement that ASIC will investigate the growth in interest only mortgages.

Over the last 12 months, house prices in Australia have grown by over 9% – just below the high rates achieved during the First Home Owner Grant fuelled growth after the GFC. This news is usually trumpeted by all those representing a more bullish view of the role of housing in the economy. How can rising house prices be anything but good for the economy? But consider that the continued growth in house prices relies on the continued growth in housing finance and debt. This recent increase in house prices has been the result of accelerating growth in leverage – real mortgage debt as a % of GDP in Australia is now just 0.9% pts shy of its all-time high of 84.6% reached in December 2010. Debt per-se is not a bad thing – it helps to support investment and productive activity in the economy. While the growth of housing debt is not new in Australia, there is an increasing risk associated with this debt emerging in the broader environment.

All data quoted excludes refinancing of established dwellings.

Another record month for housing finance in October

This latest month of data shows that the value of total housing finance reached an all-time of $23.8b in October 2014. This was +0.4% higher than the previous month and is now 13% higher than the value reached at the previous all-time high in June 2007. On an annual basis, all dwellings finance is growing at +18%.

Source: ABS

The total value of the flow of new housing finance is an important driver of house price growth. We can also measure this another way by the growth in new credit based on the “change of the change” of the stock of outstanding credit. This shows that growth in new credit for mortgages continues to accelerate at a total level.

Source: RBA, The Macroeconomic Project

This trend in housing finance and house price growth has broadly been in place since the start of the latest round of interest rate cuts commenced in late 2011. Since then, expansionary monetary policy has been aided by accommodative global financial conditions i.e. QE. This has resulted in lower funding costs for the banks on global markets which have filtered through to the lending market. This has helped to generate greater price competition in the mortgage market with some banks offering fixed rate mortgages at below 5%. The current benchmark standard variable rate is 5.95% (RBA F05 Benchmark lending rates, Nov 2014). But interest rates haven’t been the only thing to drive this growth – taxation policy, the introduction of leverage into SMSF’s and foreign ownership rules have all contributed to the ongoing growth of housing finance, debt and house prices by finding the next marginal buyer of property.

Owner occupier lending is slowing down

Underlying these totals, the story is a little different. One important point from this latest data is that growth of housing finance for owner occupiers is no longer growing as fast – slowing over the last eight (8) months from +15% to now just over 10% growth on an annual basis – which is still high, but well below that of the total market.

Source: ABS

The biggest segment of owner occupier housing finance is for the purchase of established dwellings. This group has historically been the largest segment of lending overall and also a broader indicator of the state of household confidence and spending. The contribution to annual growth from owner occupiers buying established dwellings has shrunk considerably in the latest quarter versus the annual result. The contribution from owner occupiers borrowing for the purchase of new dwellings remains limited. The impetus for growth in housing finance is clearly coming from investors.

Source: ABS

Despite the growth in lending at a total level, owner occupier activity hasn’t grown to the same degree. The value of owner occupier housing finance is still well below the peak achieved during the super charged First Home Owners Grant (FHOG) during the GFC and the current monthly total is -7.5% below the all-time high achieved in Sept 2009.

Importantly though, the growth in owner occupier activity experienced from late 2011 until the end of 2013 has slowed down.

Source: ABS

The currently monthly value of owner occupier finance is only -1.9% below the recent peak in Nov 2013, so there has been no decline of any significant nature.

The slow-down is also reflected in the number of owner occupiers taking our housing finance commitments – this is probably the most accurate characterisation of the situation – the number remains at a high level, but without growth.

Source: ABS

Annually, the number of owner occupier commitments has grown by +6%, but that has now slowed to just 1% growth in the latest quarter to Oct (versus the same qtr. year ago). So virtually no growth in the number of commitments at a National level – but no decline either.

Digging deeper into the state data reveals that:

  • While NSW accounts for the largest % point contribution to annual growth in owner occupier housing finance, that contribution has dropped considerably in the latest quarter – this might be no surprise given the level of investor activity subsequently pricing owner occupiers out of the market
  • Owner occupier finance in WA has made a slightly negative contribution to growth in the latest quarter
  • QLD and VIC are making up the larger contribution to growth in the latest quarter

Source: ABS

In NSW, the slow-down in growth has been driven by owner occupiers buying established dwellings (ex refi’s) and new dwellings. Neither shows a convincing decline in the trend though, so it’s difficult to read too much into this except that growth has slowed.

In WA, the slow-down in the latest quarter is also driven by owner occupiers buying established dwellings – again, the trend is not clearly down either.

Investor activity continues to grow

Investor housing finance has been the main driver of growth in the market – growing at over 28% year on year. All segments of investor activity now accounts for nearly 70% of the growth in housing finance ex refinancing. The annual rate of growth has been sitting around 28% since April 2014.

Source: ABS

While the rate of growth has remained at the 28% level, the monthly value of housing investment finance activity continues to reach new highs – over $12b in the latest month. This is driving the broader growth in housing finance.

Source: ABS

There have been some signs of slowing growth in recent months, but the market just continues onto new highs.

Even at a state level, growth is strong. Looking at the latest quarter versus annual growth in investment housing finance, it’s clear that some of the growth rates have come off the boil, but they are still very high overall. The states that are making the largest contribution to overall growth in the value of investment housing finance are NSW, VIC, QLD and to a smaller degree, WA.

Source: ABS

The level of investment housing finance in states such as NSW, VIC, QLD and TAS are at their near term highs (in the period since interest rates were cut in Nov 2011). In QLD, WA & TAS growth in investment housing finance has accelerated in the latest quarter versus the last year.

This increase in investor activity has created a shift in the market. Housing investors now account for a much larger share of housing finance – this is the first time in the data series that investment housing finance has exceeded the value of owner occupier commitments.

Source: ABS

An increasing proportion of investors in the market creates some risk. Financing for investment properties is based on the use of interest only mortgages in order to take advantage of the tax benefits of negative gearing. This means that investors pay only the interest component for a fixed period. At the end of that period, loans either revert to principle + interest loans (P&I), are refinanced to extend the interest only period (assuming it can be) or the loan is paid off (by selling the property).

Most property investors in Australia make a net rental income loss – the total net income losses in 2012/13 financial year was -$8b (Source: ATO). In other words, the annual rental income of investment properties does not cover the interest payment plus other expenses. Whilst negative gearing is used as a tax minimisation strategy, housing investors are making one big bet on increasing house prices. Given the high rate of growth in investor housing, the sentiment seems to be one of “prices always go up”. Housing investors have moved to this level of ‘Ponzi’ financing, relying solely on capital gain for payback.

This situation has been in place for a long time now with a growing number of investors making losses in order to reduce their taxable income. This increasing loss has been the result of higher property prices together with much slower growth in rental prices/income. The reductions in interest rates has helped to cushion some of this, but even at these low rates, interest expense is still approx. half of the expense incurred by a property investor.

Source: Egan & Soos, Bubble Economics – Australian Land Speculation 1830 – 2013

According to latest ATO stats, an estimated 1.9m taxpayers claimed the total -$8b loss in 2012/13, up from an estimated 1.6m investors in 2008/09.

Given the growth in investment housing finance, interest only loans are growing as a proportion of total lending – reaching over 42% of new housing loans approved in Sept qtr. 2014 (by total value all ADI’s).

Source: APRA

Slightly more concerning is that there also appears to be a growing number of owner occupiers using interest only loans. This next chart shows the difference in %pts between the share of investors and the share of interest only loans. That gap is widening. In the Sept 2014 quarter, investors represented 37.5% of all new housing loan approvals and yet interest only loans represented 42.5% of all new housing loan approvals – a gap of -5.1% pts. A difference of zero would imply that investors are taking out interest only loans – but the current situation shows that, at the very least, investors plus non-investors i.e. owner occupiers, are also taking out interest only loans.

Source: APRA, The Macroeconomic Project

This is riskier for an owner occupier given they cannot claim the interest expense as a part of a loss to reduce taxable income. If an owner occupier can’t afford the repayments of a standard P&I loan now, then they are betting 1) their income will be larger at the end of the interest only period (to manage a higher monthly repayment if it reverts back to P&I) or, more likely, 2) house prices will continue to appreciate such that at the end of the interest only period, the owner occupier will be able to pay off the loan by selling the property. Under the condition that house prices rise, the owner occupier could refinance (the capital appreciation providing the ‘equity’) – but it will likely be a more expensive loan in the longer run.

Emerging risks in the system

Concerns have been growing about the level of growth in housing lending that is fuelling higher house prices, especially in investor related activity. There are several emerging risks in the broader economic environment:-

Signalling that the US will raise interest rates in 2015. Importantly, the current growth in Australian housing has been off the back of historically low rates, lower funding costs for the banks and generally high levels of global liquidity. An increase in US rates would be the first moves in tightening of global liquidity (until such time that the ECB actually does implement some form of QE). This would likely increase bank funding costs in Australia with those costs most likely passed onto the consumer/borrower. Tighter liquidity conditions are likely to slow the level of house price appreciation in Australia. The likelihood of rates rising can be debated at length, but at the very least, the liquidity provided by QE is no longer growing.

Slowing growth in Australia. This brings into question whether rates will really rise in Australia in the short term. According to the RBA current interest rate settings are right for the current environment. But a slowing economy is likely to impact growth in housing finance regardless. We are possibly seeing some of that effect reflected in the slowing of owner occupier activity as ‘affordability’ starts to limit the level of debt growth in combination with slowing income and wages growth.

These broader economic risks, together with the current level of activity in our housing market, seem to be feeding into a heightened level of regulatory attention. Whether this leads to action on the part of our regulators is another story. Several areas are in focus:-

An increase in lending concentration risk. This was highlighted by the recent Murray Inquiry as well as in the recent round of APRA banks stress tests. Australian banks have continued to build greater concentration in and exposure to the housing market in their loan portfolios, with mortgages increasing from 55% to 65% of lending over the last 10 years (Source: APRA). Mortgages are seen as lower risk, hence attract a lower risk weight in the calculation of capital requirements. The increase in concentration of mortgages over the last ten years has had the effect of actually reducing the amount of capital banks are required to hold – and actually, the improvement in capital ratios is a result of the increasing shift into mortgages rather than any deleveraging. But in effect, the combination of greater concentration in housing loans and the reduced requirement for capital has created some risk in the system.

“Given housing loans have become such a high concentration on the systems balance sheet and require, particularly for the more sophisticated banks, very limited levels of capital, assessing losses within the housing book are critical to judging the adequacy of capital of Australia’s banks” Wayne Byres, Chairman APRA, Lessons from APRA’s 2014 Tress Test on Australia’s Largest Banks, 7th November 2014

At this stage APRA has no plans to increase capital ratios for banks, but it was a key recommendation in the recent Murray Inquiry report – “Because of their (banks) reliance on off-shore funding markets, the highly concentrated nature of our banking sector and the similarity of business model of most Australian banks.” Banks are essentially all in the same trade with little diversification of lending risk.

ASIC investigation into the use of “interest only” loans. See the full announcement here. The growing proportion of interest only loans has raised concerns regarding the appropriateness of this higher risk lending. Under the current low rates scenario, interest only loans enable borrowers to maximise the amount they can borrow, especially for investment purposes. This increases the amount of leverage and risk. The concern raised by ASIC relates the whether these loans are appropriate in all circumstances.

‘While house prices have been experiencing growth in many parts of Australia, it remains critical that lenders are not putting consumers into unsuitable loans that could see them end up with unsustainable levels of debt”, ASIC Deputy Chairman Peter Kell, Media Release, 9th December 2014

Increased surveillance of lending practices by APRA. This is in response to what it calls emerging pressures in the housing market”. In a statement released last week, APRA confirmed that while it would not increase capital requirements or introduce macro-prudential limits at this stage, it will step up its surveillance of “specific areas of concern”:-

  • higher risk mortgage lending — for example, high loan-to-income loans, high loan-to-valuation (LVR) loans, interest-only loans to owner occupiers, and loans with very long terms;
  • strong growth in lending to property investors — portfolio growth materially above a threshold of 10 per cent will be an important risk indicator for APRA supervisors in considering the need for further action;
  • loan affordability tests for new borrowers — in APRA’s view, these should incorporate an interest rate buffer of at least 2 per cent above the loan product rate, and a floor lending rate of at least 7 per cent, when assessing borrowers’ ability to service their loans. Good practice would be to maintain a buffer and floor rate comfortably above these levels.

(Source: APRA 9th Dec 2014)

Implicit in all of the increased regulatory focus of late is the question ‘what if housing doesn’t always go up?’ This is quite a departure from what is ingrained in our culture – that real estate values only ever go up. But the combination of the threat of tighter global liquidity together with slowing growth in Australia now raises this very possibility. Strengthening the regulatory framework is undoubtedly an important step to take, but its effect will be to slow down the housing market in order to reduce any further risk. Measures to strengthen the financial system and to limit the growth of riskier lending will in effect take the momentum out of the fastest growing part of the market. This action itself could pose a threat to those exposed to the real estate market that are highly leveraged and are relying solely on house price gains.

However, as very highly leveraged institutions at the centre of the financial system, investing in risky assets and offering depositors a capital guaranteed investment, we need confidence that banks can withstand periods of reasonable stress without jeopardising the interests of the broader community (except perhaps for their own shareholders). But what degree of confidence do we want?” Wayne Byres, Chairman APRA, Opening statement to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics 28 Nov 2014

Growth in New Credit Continues to Accelerate in June 2014

Growth in new private sector credit has been accelerating for a year now. The largest component, housing, has gained most of the attention. But the more hidden star of the show has been the acceleration in growth of new credit for business. It’s an important point to focus on because it should be positive news regarding the Australian economy. Credit growth for business should lead to increased capital investment and all the benefits that come along with that – income, employment and economic growth. Yet private sector capex growth has not been a strong performer over the last few quarters, mostly due to the slowdown in growth of mining capex. The main question of this post, is whether this acceleration in the growth in new credit for business has, or will, likely end up driving growth in business investment – especially non-mining investment. Given the forward estimates for total capex (ex housing) in the 2014/15 financial year are still well below current levels, the answer is probably not to the degree needed at this stage.

The other important highlight in the June data is the reversal in the size of new credit growth between investor and owner occupier mortgages. The change was surprisingly large and, if it continues, highlights a potential shift in sentiment in the housing market. The overall continued acceleration of growth in new mortgage credit is likely to feed into ongoing house price growth.

Some clarification is required first. On this blog, I maintain a ‘credit impulse’ page which looks at the growth in new credit as a % of GDP. Growth in credit/debt is one of the major themes driving the Australian economy, along with mining and housing, so the tracking of the credit impulse is a useful indicator of activity in the economy. The data for this post and the credit impulse calculations are sourced from the same data – the stock of outstanding credit (RBA D02). As GDP is released quarterly, the credit impulse tracker is only updated at that time. In between these times, the ‘growth in new credit’ is used to gauge activity in the economy. The growth in new credit looks at second order changes or acceleration in credit growth in dollar terms. Read more here.

There are two significant highlights in the release of the June data by the RBA.

The first is the continued acceleration of growth in new credit for the business component of total private sector credit.

Chart 1

Source: RBA

The growth in new credit for business is now, for the first time in well over 18 months, one of the larger contributors to the overall growth in new private sector credit.

The growth in new credit for business could be an early indication that business is now willing to take on new debt to invest and/or expand. This is generally good news for economic growth. But it’s important to consider what this growth in new credit is being used for and which sectors are driving the growth in new credit in order to ascertain its potential impact on the economy.

As an aside, I generally place greater value on growth in business debt leading to productive capital investment than growth in debt for housing. Growth in new credit for housing does not tend to have the same impact on the economy where the majority of that credit growth is used to just transfer existing assets within the private sector for higher and higher prices. This type of credit growth potentially takes away from more productive forms of investment usually undertaken by business.

The stock of total outstanding credit for business is now only 2% below the peak reached pre-GFC in November 2008. The growth over the last 12 months (especially) is evident, as is the large increase in June 2014.

Chart 2

Source: RBA

The important assumption above is that this credit growth will lead to some form of productive business investment and/or expansion. This is usually part of the transmission mechanism that central banks rely upon when implementing a lower interest rate policy. But, despite the acceleration in growth in new credit for business over the last year, private capital expenditure growth has been poor of late.

Looking at the Mar ’14 GDP results, Private Gross Fixed Capital Formation (GFCF) made a -0.09% pt contribution to annual GDP growth of +3.53%. Breaking Private GFCF down into its component parts reveals the split between a negative contribution from Total Business Investment and a positive contribution from Dwellings & Ownership Transfer costs. This is consistent with the larger contribution from mortgage credit growth than business credit growth in the year leading up to the March quarter.

Chart 3

Source: ABS

The dwellings component is made up of ‘new & used dwellings’ most of which is new dwelling construction but also includes new additions and/or alterations to existing private dwellings. ‘Ownership transfer’ costs relate to all ownership transfer costs, not just for dwellings.

The main drivers of the negative contribution for Total Business Investment was non-dwelling construction and machinery & equipment, together contributing -0.67%pts to the decline in the Total Business Investment component. The Total Business Investment component has made a negative contribution to overall GDP growth for the last three (3) quarters and at a similar rate.

So will this current acceleration in the growth in new credit for business likely feed into growth in business investment? First consider which sectors have been driving this growth in new credit for business.

The RBA series – Bank Lending to Business – Total Credit Outstanding by Size & Sector (D7.3) provides some insight as to which sectors have been driving this growth in new credit for business over the last year. Note that the most recent data is only up until March 2014.

Over the last year, the single largest contributor to the growth in new credit for business was from the Finance & Insurance sector.

Chart 4

Source: RBA

Looking at the trend in the growth of new credit for business by major sector provides a further layer of insight. I’ve split the major sectors into two charts given the relative size of the dollar growth in new credit:-

A) The two largest sectors by share of total credit outstanding are Other (48%) and the Finance & Insurance sector (16%).

Chart 5

Source: RBA

The annual growth in new credit for Finance & Insurance has accelerated to $16b as of Mar 2014 – with the trend over the last 3 quarters to Mar ’14 clearly positive. Despite being the larger share of total bank lending to business outstanding, the growth in new credit for ‘Other’ remains negative and the upward trend no longer in place. Both are well below their recent highs which will likely have implications for the relative impact in the economy.

The question that this raises though, is to what degree will bank lending to the Finance & Insurance sector will lead to growth in capital investment? Finance and Insurance are service based industries, so large capital projects for these firms are likely to be IT or real estate based. According to the latest ABS capex survey (in current dollars), actual annual capex expenditure in the Finance & Insurance sector declined by 6.3% and the sector only accounts for a small proportion of the value of capex in the survey. More likely, this growth in new credit could find its way into the economy through these firms carrying out their core business of providing funding. Whether this ends up funding further housing speculation or more productive business investment remains to be seen.

B) The other major sectors of Agriculture, Mining, Manufacturing, Construction and Wholesale, Retail and Transport account for 36% of total outstanding credit of bank lending to business.

The size of the growth in new credit among these sectors is clearly much smaller than Finance & Insurance (again will have implications for the level of impact in the economy), but the important point to note is the recent acceleration of growth in new credit across most sectors. The direction is important, but the relative size of the growth is still small (which is why the credit impulse is so useful, as it expresses this growth as a % of GDP).

Chart 6

Source: RBA

The important point from this is to see whether this growth in new credit starts to show up in capex in these sectors. Given the continued acceleration of growth in new credit for the business sector (highlighted in chart 1, RBA D.02) between March and June 2014, there may be some upside surprise in private GFCF in the next few quarters GDP.

Looking at the Expected Capex survey from the ABS for March 2014, the small improvements in expected capital expenditure for manufacturing and ‘other selected industries’ are overshadowed by the sheer scale of the slow-down in mining.

Chart 7 – Total Capital Expenditure – actual and expected

Source: ABS 5625 – this survey isn’t a comprehensive over view of capex across all industry sectors – the ‘other selected industries’ does not include agriculture, forestry and fishing, education, and health and community services industries and capital expenditure on dwellings by households.

Firstly, looking at the remainder of the 2013/14 year above. Note that estimate 6 comprises actuals to March and estimates for the June qtr of the 13/14 financial year.

Total capital expenditure at estimate 6 represented a -2.5% decline on the previous estimate 5 at Dec 2013. The largest component of that decline was mining $-7,294m. At the same time manufacturing capex increased by 6.2% or $558m and ‘other selected industries also grew by 4.4% or $2,461m – was this growth driven by the recent growth in new credit? But the growth in capex in both these sectors was clearly overshadowed by the slow-down in mining. The upshot is that significant capex increases (and presumably credit) would be required by industries ex-mining in order to ‘re-balance’ growth as mining capex slows.

Looking further out to 2014/15, estimate 2 for total capital expenditure is set to decline by 15% from where estimate 6 currently stands. The biggest contributor to that decline is mining at -16% or -$15,418m. There is no evidence here to suggest that other sectors will be picking up the slack. For example, capital expenditure in manufacturing at estimate 2 for 2014/15 year is 29% or -$2,788m below where estimate 6 currently sits for the 2013/14 financial year. Other selected industries is similar, sitting at -13% or -$7,581m for the 2014/15 financial year.

The next capex survey for the June 2014 qtr is due for release by the ABS on 28th August 2014 (ABS 5625 Private New Capital Expenditure and Expected Expenditure) and this may shed some more light on whether this recent acceleration in credit growth between March and June has fed into incremental capital expenditure for the remainder of 2013/14 financial year.

Another more up to date indicator of potential capital expenditure is the import of capital goods (ABS 5368.08 – I’ve used trend data here in order to provide a guide on direction). The import of capital goods has declined by 5.5% year on year at June 2014 compared to an increase of 7.9% on the import of consumption goods. The month on month growth in import of capital goods suggests only a slight improvement via a slower rate of decline in the three months leading up to June 2014. In fact, the import of intermediate goods highlights that ‘other parts for capital goods’ has grown annually at over 6%, but the recent month on month data points to decline over the last five months.

The second highlight of the RBA June data was the dramatic shift in the size of the growth in new credit from investor to owner occupier mortgages.

Growth in new credit for housing investor mortgages has been the largest component of growth in total new private credit over the last year, despite the size of outstanding credit being half that for owner occupier activity. But in June, this trend reversed sharply, with growth in new credit for owner occupier mortgages increasing sharply;-

Chart 8

Source: RBA

Given that this has happened in one month, it’s unclear as to whether this is the start of a new trend. But if it is, it marks the start of a change in sentiment. Investor activity has been the key driver behind growth in housing debt and therefore house prices during this current interest rate easing cycle. It appears that owner occupiers were much slower to take advantage of lower interest rates to increase their debt load. Recently, several of the bigger banks have suggested that owner occupiers have used this opportunity to pay down mortgage debt at a faster rate. Full article here (source: SMH 27 July 2014). The data I use here is the stock of outstanding credit (the difference between monthly totals represents the addition of new debt to existing debt, less all debt that is paid down in the period), so a sudden increase in new credit growth could indicate that 1) owner occupier mortgages are now growing faster than households are paying down incremental mortgage debt or 2) that owner occupier households have slowed their faster rate of mortgage pay-down for some reason.

The growth in new credit for owner occupier mortgages only turned positive in May 2014, so the large increase in the June data is surprising. I will delve further into this issue in another post looking at the growth in housing finance and house prices in Australia.

It’s worthwhile pointing out that the growth in new credit for all mortgages is now higher than the pre GFC peak. This was not the case for growth in new business credit.

Chart 9

Source: RBA

Given the data shows the second order change, it means mortgage credit growth continues to accelerate in Australia. This ongoing acceleration suggests that house prices will, on aggregate, also continue to rise in the near term.

 

 

 

 

The credit impulse strengthens in March 2014

Credit data released by the RBA shows growth in Total Private Credit accelerating, as at March 2014.

This should be a positive sign for the economy – changes in spending in the economy depend on changes in income and changes in net new lending (source: http://www.debtdeflation.com). The components of this acceleration are also important indicators of where the economy may be headed and this is what I want to focus on in this post.

The main contributor to the acceleration in new credit continues to be investment housing credit. No surprise and no change. But the real news in this data is the ongoing turnaround in business credit. Whilst the size of the business credit impulse is still very small relative to the other credit components, it is now in positive territory. I’m far more enthusiastic about the improvement in the business credit impulse than the ongoing acceleration in housing credit growth. Schumpeter argues that there is a link between accelerating debt and accelerating incomes – if that debt has been used to fund entrepreneurial activity. In theory, that’s an investment in building the productive capacity of the economy, which is positive for growth in income and in employment. Certainly a part of the RBA’s intention with lowering interest rates has been to ‘rebalance’ investment towards the non-mining sectors. But business investment has been slow to respond and new credit for investment hasn’t grown on a large enough scale yet.

On the other hand, the change in monetary policy seemed to impact the speculative aspect of housing finance almost immediately. The majority of outstanding debt in Australia is related to housing and continued increases in house prices relies on accelerating housing lending/debt. Unfortunately, a large share of growth in new credit, and growth in household debt, continues to goes towards the transfer of ownership of houses in Australia.

Why is the credit impulse important?

The data released by the RBA is the stock of all outstanding credit which takes into account existing debt, new debt and debt paid down. More important than the growth in credit is the growth in new credit that is issued. Starting with a basic premise that borrowing equals spending, its new credit issued in an economy that partly drives new spending in the economy. The other source of new spending in the economy is growth in income – not covered in this post. Consider a simple example – if you borrow $10 each month for six months, total credit grows by $10 each month, but after month one, growth in new credit equals $0 or, in other words, there is constant growth in credit and therefore you only spend $10 each month. But if you borrow $10, then $15, then $25, then $40 and finally $60, then there is growth in credit and growth in new credit of $5, $10, $15 and $20. As a result, spending grows each month. So the importance of tracking the credit impulse is that it is one of two important sources of spending that will impact output and/or asset prices.

I first came across the credit impulse through the work of Professor Steve Keen in his quest is to build a more robust and accurate representation of the role of debt and money creation by financial intermediaries in the economy. In working through the impact of growth in new credit on aggregate demand, Professor Keen’s latest work suggests the impact of the credit impulse is also influenced by the velocity of money. His latest thinking:-

“[This formula corrects] a rule of thumb proposition that I have previously asserted, that aggregate demand is the sum of income plus the change in debt (Keen 2014; see also Krugman 2013b). The correct proposition is that, in a world in which the banking sector endogenously creates new money by creating new loans, aggregate demand in a given period is the sum of aggregate demand at the beginning of that period, plus the change in debt over the period multiplied by the velocity of money.”

Source: http://www.debtdeflation.com/blogs/2014/02/02/modeling-financial-instability/#sthash.p9qge3RN.dpuf

I have not gone into the velocity of money detail for this post. Whilst I have quite simply represented the growth in new credit, it’s a useful view of credit nonetheless.

To what degree does the growth in new credit drive growth in output versus growth in net change in the value of assets? I think this is a fairly fundamental question that faces our economy and it comes down to the source of the growth in new credit.

Total Private Credit

The usual way to present the credit impulse is as a % of GDP so that we can relate the size of the growth in new credit to the size of the economy. But given that March quarter GDP will not be released for another month, I’m opting to present this data instead in its dollar amount in order to understand the general direction of the growth in new credit. All the credit components – housing, business and personal are all expressed in dollars in this post, which will serve as the basis for comparison.

My proxy for the credit impulse – the growth in new credit – bottomed back in the June quarter 2013. Despite being in negative territory, the slope of the curve has been positive, meaning that the decline is getting smaller. Even a negative credit impulse with a positive sloping curve will have a positive impact.

The dollar growth in new credit for total private credit is approaching its two previous post-GFC highs, but is still well down on growth in the years leading up to the GFC:-

Source: RBA, The Macroeconomic Project

This gives you a sense of the relative size of the current growth and its potential impact on the economy. But for the impulse to become a larger proportion of GDP, it needs to grow faster than GDP (we’ll know this when GDP data is released). The current size of the growth in new credit at Mar 2014 is $26.6b, up from $17.7b in Feb 2014.

The question now becomes which of the main areas of total private credit have been driving growth in new credit?

The four components that make up total private credit (each with their share of total outstanding credit) are – owner occupier housing (40%), investor housing (20%), other personal (6%) and business (33%). Below is the growth in new credit across these four (4) components and total private credit over the last twelve months:-

Source: RBA, The Macroeconomic Project

There have been some large shifts in momentum over the last twelve months and a more positive shift in direction in the first quarter of 2014. The obvious one is the improvement in business credit – this has clearly had the greatest impact on the growth in new total private credit. But the actual dollar size of growth in new credit for business is still small relative to the other components (at Mar ’14). Growth in new investor mortgage credit is the largest of all components, which has also accelerated in the first quarter. Growth in new credit for owner occupier mortgage and personal credit are on par, but are, respectively, flat and decelerating.

Housing Credit – owner occupier and investor housing currently 60% of total private credit

Investor housing credit currently makes up the largest proportion of the growth in new credit. In March 2014, growth in new credit was $12b, up from $10.3b in Feb 2014, despite only currently representing 20% of outstanding total private credit. So approximately half of the current growth in new credit in the economy is for investor housing finance.

The growth in new credit for investor housing is close to reaching its second highest point of the last ten years.

Source: RBA, The Macroeconomic Project

This is only one part of mortgage credit. More broadly, the growth in new mortgage credit was $18.5b in March 2014, up from $16.9b in Feb 2014. This includes the change in new owner occupier housing credit of $6.6b in mar 2014, which was unchanged from $6.6b growth in Feb 2014. This signals a slowing in growth momentum for owner-occupier activity.

The slope of the curves look quite different between owner occupiers and investors – steep for investors and less steep for owner occupiers. The steeper curve suggests faster/larger growth in new credit for investor housing and this is consistent with what we have seen in other housing finance data.

Growth in new credit for owner occupiers has been somewhat more subdued and at March 2014, is about half that of growth in new credit for investor housing finance. Although the slope of the curve started to steepen in late 2013, the latest data suggests that the momentum is starting to slow.

Source: RBA, The Macroeconomic Project

The overall growth in total new mortgage credit remains strong and is obviously driven by investor activity.

So what can we expect as a result? Intuitively, you would expect accelerating housing credit growth to show up in asset values. As long as we have accelerating debt, it’s likely that we will continue to see house prices grow. Below is the mortgage credit impulse plotted with the annual growth in the residential property price index until Dec 2013. There is a reasonably strong correlation between the two (0.68).

Source: ABS, RBA, The Macroeconomic Project

Some of the accelerating growth in housing credit will show up in GDP, but to a smaller degree, in Private Fixed Capital Formation. This part of GDP captures the value of the creation of new assets only – new dwellings and new alterations and/or additions will add to GDP in that quarter. This currently accounts for just under 5% of GDP at Dec ’13. According to the latest housing finance data, purchase and construction of new dwellings has accounted for only 12% of total housing finance over the last year (ex-refinancing). Many of the current First Home Owners grants have focused on the purchase of new dwellings as it’s the creation of new assets that is likely to stimulate the economy more because jobs and income are created through new projects, rather than through transferring ownership of existing dwellings.

The transfer of ownership costs (legal etc.) are recorded as a part of GDP under Private GFCF- ownership transfer costs, but includes all ownership transfer costs, not just those on dwellings. This accounts for approx. 1.4% of GDP at Dec ’13.

Overall, the majority of total private debt relates to housing – debt which continues to accumulate, for what is essentially an unproductive asset. The downside to this is that this debt for the most part does not contribute to growing the future earning capacity of the economy, employing people, innovating or generating productivity gains.

Business Credit – 33% of Total Private Credit

The growth in new credit for business was the bright spot in this report. For the first time since the RBA lowered interest rates in late 2011, the growth in new credit for business has reached positive territory. Business investment is the single area most likely to generate income growth, employment, innovation and productivity gains for an economy.

Source: RBA, The Macroeconomic Project

The growth in new credit for business started to turn positive from mid-2013, but growth accelerated recently. In five months, growth in new credit for business has turned from a large negative to positive growth: Jan ’14 -$11.7B, Feb ’14 -$5.2B and Mar ’14 +$2.6b. Looking at the relative peaks over the last seven years (chart above), there is still a long way to go though.

Where is the growth in new credit for business likely to show up?

The labour market has been improving over the last several months – indicating at least progress on business expansion. There has been a shift from PT to more FT growth in jobs, although it appears that hours worked has not grown at the same rate. But this isn’t directly where growth in new credit is likely to show up.

This is more likely to show up in business investment. Over the last year, business investment has been slowing down and some forward indicators suggest that this will continue. One of the key objectives of the RBA in its easing stance has been to influence business investment and specifically to ‘rebalance’ investment towards non-resource sectors in light of the coming slow-down in mining investment. Recall that the first interest rate cut happened all the way back in Nov 2011.

Business investment and capex are measured in several ways. One way, is via the private new capital expenditure and expected expenditure survey (ABS 5625). This is not the equivalent of, or a complete view of the business investment component from GDP, but provides detail of expected capex expenditure, especially with regard to mining and manufacturing. You can read the full details of the inclusions and exclusions on the ABS website, but ‘all other selected industries’ excludes capital expenditure by all private businesses including units classified to agriculture, forestry and fishing, education, and health and community services industries and capital expenditure on dwellings by households.

The slow-down in mining capex is evident in the actual private capital expenditure data (ABS 5625):

Source: ABS 5625

I’ve opted for quarterly growth in this chart because I think it highlights the change in capex perfectly – “consistently slowing”:-

  • Mining capex growth has slowed since Sept 2011 and started to record quarterly declines from Dec 2012. At Dec 13, growth was -0.6% versus Sept qtr. 2013, a far cry from the high growth recorded in the mid-2000 and during 2010/early 2011. But this not the “mining capex cliff”.
  • Manufacturing capex growth peaked in Jun 2011 at 5.2% quarterly growth and since Mar 2012 has been in decline. Over the last year, the quarterly declines have become smaller, but capex spending continues to shrink – it’s not a drop off a cliff, but it’s a consistently lower value. At Dec 13, capex was -1.7% versus the prior quarter.
  • “All other selected industries” capex has been declining quarter on quarter since Jun 2011. There were two brief quarters of small growth in Jun and Sept 2013, but Dec was back to decline of -0.6% versus the prior quarter. As mentioned though, this is a not a complete representation of all other industries. See note above.

If you really want to know what the coming mining capex cliff will start to look like, then look no further. From the same ABS catalogue (5625):-

Source: ABS 5625

I’m referring to the 2013-2014 labelled graph above. The December ’13 quarter is marked ‘5’, which is half way through the 2013/14 financial year. Estimate 5 is made up of actual capital expenditure for the Sept and Dec ’13 quarters (as at the end of the Dec 13 quarter), plus the short term estimate for the Mar and Jun ’14 quarters. At this time, total capex for 2013/14 financial year is estimated to be $167,066m.

At the end of Dec ’13 quarter the first longer term estimate of capital expenditure is provided (E2) for the next financial year. This is the estimate marked ‘1’ for 2014- 2015 – and this is the estimate that has many spooked. Total capital expenditure is estimated at $124,880m, which is -17.4% lower than for the same period of 2013/14. The main reason for this lower estimate was a decrease in mining capex of -25.2%.

As mentioned, these estimates won’t add up to the investment data shown in the National Accounts – it’s a smaller view of what you would see in the GDP figures, but more detailed with regard to an ‘expectations’ view. The full explanation can be found on the ABS website.

So, looking at the more complete view of business investment from the latest GDP figures at Dec 2013 – this is what the quarterly growth in Private Gross Fixed Capital Formation (PGFC) for total private business investment looks like in the National accounts (ABS 5206.002):-

Source: ABS 5206.002

This includes all private business investments in non-dwelling construction, new machinery & equipment, cultivated biological resources and intellectual property. This represents approx. 17.1% of GDP at Dec ’13. I have excluded private fixed capital formation for new dwellings, new alterations to dwellings and ownership transfer costs – as this relates to mortgage activity.

Growth in total private business investment has been slowing since June 2011 and turned negative in the Sept 2013 quarter and the quarterly decline accelerated in Dec ’13. Given this consistent decline, it’s difficult to see that, based on the small size of the growth in new credit for business, that there will be a large turnaround in business investment at this stage.

Other data sources, such as the 2014 quarter one NAB Business Conditions report highlights a pickup in capex intentions in the coming twelve months, but at the same time points to ‘patchy’ investment intentions across the non-resources sectors.

Source: NAB

The latest NAB Business Conditions report for May 2014 (further out than the credit data I have presented here), suggests further gains in capex spending, but not enough to counter the falls in mining investment:-

Source: NAB

Given the size of the growth in new credit for business, I wouldn’t expect to see large improvements in business investment, but would at least expect a slowing of the decline for the March 2014 quarter GDP. There doesn’t yet appear to be high enough non-resources investment growth to counter the end of the mining investment phase.

Personal Credit – 6% of Total Private Credit

Over the first quarter of 2014, growth in new credit for total personal credit has been decelerating. Growth in new credit for personal lending reached a high of $11.6b in Oct 2013 and that growth has virtually halved since then to $5.4b at Mar 2014.

Source: RBA, The Macroeconomic Project

Total personal credit represents activity conducted with a bank on a non-business basis (excluding housing). This includes all manner of personal spending, so there isn’t one good place where you would expect this growth in new credit to impact output. It would likely be a combination of retail sales, new car sales and/or other discretionary spending etc.

Either way, growth in new credit for personal may be pointing to a slow-down in growth of the more discretionary spending categories (this is most likely where you’d find personal credit used).

Has this started showing up in Q1 retail sales? The month on month growth in retail sales has been slowing (sales remain high though), and whilst it does look like there is a correlation between the two measures, the correlation isn’t strong at all (0.23).

There was a stronger relationship between the actual personal credit impulse (as a % GDP) and the annual change in the Household Final Consumption Expenditure (HFCE) component of GDP (0.46) – at Dec ’13. The HFCE component of GDP is the single biggest part of GDP approx. 50%, so clearly spending that shows up here is ‘funded’ by a combination income as well as change in new credit.

Source: ABS, RBA, The Macroeconomic Project

It’s still not an ideal relationship/proxy, but does at least provide a very general view.

One thing to bear in mind is that a slowing in new personal credit growth could also reflect the current improved labour market conditions. It’s possible that income growth via increased labour market activity may counter any slowing in the growth of new personal credit. Using trend numbers for the first four months of this year we’ve seen +50k FT jobs (the first 4mths of 2013 was -11k FT jobs) and +22k PT jobs (the first 4mths of 2013 was +61k PT jobs) added. Unemployment has ‘only’ grown by 6.8K in the first 4mths of this year (versus 26.7k for the same time last year). This may have an impact on consumer discretionary spending, possibly cancelling out any slow-down in growth of new credit in personal spending for now.

Overall, the majority of the growth in new credit is going into housing – via investor activity. But it’s worth noting that growth in new credit for owner occupier housing appears to be slowing. For the moment, this is still likely to result in continued house price appreciation. Whilst business investment and expected capex, so far, looks like it will fall short of countering the drop in mining investment, the growth in new credit for business is an encouraging sign. But this needs to continue to accelerate in order to fuel business investment in new, productive activity in the economy. Business will likely expand investment if there is a strong growth business case. The continued high level of the Australian dollar, any potential impact of a slow-down in China and changes to fiscal policy are going to weigh on these business investment decisions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Growth Re-balancing & the Credit Impulse in Australia

On the 1/11/11, the RBA Board commenced what has now become a series of eight (8) interest rate cuts, reducing the benchmark rate from 4.5% to 2.5% (as at Oct 2013). These rate cuts came on the back of a relatively strong AUD, weakening commodity prices, falling Terms of Trade, a softening in the domestic labour market, weaker house prices and overall weakening domestic demand as evidenced by lower than expected CPI.

Since the Oct 2012 board meeting, it’s clear the RBA has recognised the approaching peak in resources investment i.e, the “mining capex cliff”. In its own words “it will be important that the forecast strengthening in some other components of demand starts to occur.” Emphasis added by me. Those “other components of demand” include business, personal & housing spending/investment. According to the RBA, the aim of lower interest rates has been to encourage sustainable growth in the economy consistent with achieving the inflation target and to rebalance growth with a combination of depreciating exchange rate and lower interest rates to stimulate non-mining investment. 

So, two years and eight rate cuts later – is there traction in the economy? Is ‘rebalancing’ underway? I want to look at this through the lens of the credit impulse in Australia.

Demand for Credit

Recently, the RBA released its Lending & Credit Aggregates for Sept 2013.


Source: RBA 

Besides the growth in Government borrowing, Investment and Owner Occupier housing finance have been the main drivers of growth in total credit. It’s easy to get caught up in % changes, but these two areas of credit alone contributed 87% of the actual dollar growth (ex Government) in all lending over the last year.

The very big concern is the fact that Business credit growth is low. Business credit represents 34% of total credit at Sept 2013, but only accounted for 9% of the actual dollar growth in credit over the last year. Other Personal credit has similarly underperformed.

Government credit (not included in Total Credit) has seen strong growth.

The Credit Impulse

Growth in credit is the usual way to relate developments in credit with developments in the economy. Possibly a more insightful way to measure this is by growth in new credit issued relative to the size of the economy. From www.clearonmoney.com, if someone is borrowing a fixed amount each month, then spending is constant (the assumption is that borrowing=spending). There is growth in credit, but no growth in spending because the amount borrowed is the same each month. The credit impulse would be zero. If that person borrows more each and every month, then new credit is accelerating and result is that spending is also likely to grow. In this case, the impulse is increasing (there is a positive slope to the line). This perspective follows the change in the flow of money and credit, not the stock. The above chart/table “demand for credit” is the % change in stock.

Total Private Credit Impulse

Below is the estimated credit impulse in Australia for total Private credit comprising Business, Personal and Mortgage credit. It’s calculated by taking the change in new credit expressed as a % of GDP for that quarter. Whilst I have credit data up to Sept 2013, I only have GDP up to June 2013.


Source: RBA & The Macroeconomic Project 

The slope of the line is what counts and since July 2012 the slope has become negative, despite eight (8) interest rate cuts.

Total Private credit has been growing (in nominal terms) but at a decreasing rate. Between June 2012 and June 2013 the growth in new credit has been getting smaller as a % of GDP. For example, new credit grew by $91b between June 2012 and June 2011, but new credit only grew by $61.4b between June 2013 and June 2012. Therefore the change in new credit is -$29.7b or -2% of GDP – a negative credit impulse at June 2013. 

To keep funding new growth, new credit needs to grow by an increasing amount.


Source: RBA, The Macroeconomic Project 

In terms of trend change, real Private credit growth has started to increase again since July 2013 – the red arrow on the chart above. We’ll need to await Sept 2013 qtr GDP figures to understand the size of the impulse.

So with a negative credit impulse, we should have seen a decline in spending in the economy. But the other component to view together with the Private credit impulse is the Government credit impulse.


Source: RBA, The Macroeconomic Project 

Up until June 2013, the Government credit impulse has been strong – as witnessed by the steepness of the curve (chart above). When you compare the change in new credit as a % of GDP (the actual impulse), the positive Government credit impulse of 2% of GDP counteracts the negative -2% print of the Private credit impulse. You could argue that growth in the economy has been held steady by Government spending.

But during July – Sept 2013, real Government credit growth looks to be slowing down again with quite a substantial drop between July & August 2013. Luckily, the growth in Private credit that we saw above may counteract the Government slow-down in this latest Sept 2013 quarter.


Source: RBA, The Macroeconomic Project 

Looking at the Private and Government credit impulse can provide a general view over growth in the economy. One way to look at the effect on the economy is to look at recent trends in GDP growth;


Source: ABS 

Quarterly GDP growth ‘peaked’ around Dec 2011 (trend) and has continued to slow since then. This isn’t the lowest growth environment that we have been in, but the trend in growth in real GDP indicates that the economy is not ‘rebalancing’ after eight (8) interest rate cuts. This is consistent with the low credit impulse in the economy.

But not all pockets in the economy are performing equally. Breaking down the credit data provides some insight as to the areas that have and have not (yet) responded to rate cuts.

Business Credit Impulse

The business credit impulse has been in a down trend since June 2012 qtr and this is the most concerning insight in this study.

Business credit is the second largest area of total credit behind owner occupier housing finance so it has a far reaching impact on the economy. Since Dec 2011, the Business credit impulse has gone from +3.3% to -2.3% of GDP.

Importantly, business investment is the engine of the economy. If business is investing in new technology or additional capacity, then this likely to drive future employment and income growth. This is an important source of the RBA’s sustainable economic growth.


Source: RBA and The Macroeconomic Project 

Growth in real Business lending has been slowing down since June 2012 and started declining (year on year) around March 2013. Make no mistake, the Business credit impulse has been by far the largest contributor to the total Private credit impulse and growth of new credit for Business represents a larger % of GDP than growth in new credit for Mortgages. The performance of the Business credit impulse has shifted dramatically over this time period – as you can see from the chart. Since the RBA started cutting rates at the end of 2011, the Business credit impulse has gone from positive to negative, not the other way around.

Real Business credit growth has been zero or negative since November 2012;


Source: ABS, The Macroeconomic Project 

This means that total outstanding Business debt has been getting smaller – more debt is paid down than new credit is raised.


Source: RBA, The Macroeconomic Project 

As you can see from the chart above, the last 3 months of growth suggest a slightly improving Business credit impulse for Q3 2013. 

Despite eight (8) interest rate cuts, total Business credit has not grown, and in fact has become smaller as a % of GDP – from 62% in 2008 to 47% in June 2013. The impact of this deleveraging is contraction. The only upside is that business will be in a better position to invest should (when) demand conditions pick up.

These next two charts provide some further context about the current business environment – non-mining profits falling as a share of GDP and even mining profits have stopped accelerating as a % of GDP. Business profits have been squeezed and this is showing up (on aggregate) in cost cutting (see recent employment reports) and what appears to be a reduced appetite for debt/investment for future growth.

 

This is another view of business investment – by industry sector. Share of business investment in most industries, with the notable exception of mining, is declining. This is exactly the situation that the RBA is aiming to ‘rebalance’ given the forecast for mining investment to slow. 

 

The NAB Monthly Business Conditions report has shown that excess capacity continues to plague the economy across multiple sectors (including mining). There is clearly no reason for business (on the whole) to invest in building capacity;- 


The one thing that immediately jumps out to me on these last two charts is the discrepancy between the growing share of Mining investment and the low and falling capacity utilisation in Mining. 

The other important factor affecting business (exporting ones) is the exchange rate. The aim of the RBA has been to rebalance growth through a combination of a lower $AUD and lower interest rates. Despite the spike down in 2012 (probably more due to speculation of US FED tapering its QE program than interest rate differential), the exchange rate has remained fairly high. The benefit of a lower exchange rate is that exports become more competitive – which should fuel higher investment and employment locally. It also makes imports more expensive, possibly helping locally manufactured goods to compete domestically, but increasing costs of inputs priced in USD eg fuel.

 

Overall trading conditions continue to be challenging and business has not been investing. In the short-term this does not paint a positive picture for rebalancing economic growth. 

Housing Finance Credit Impulse

This contrasts with the acceleration in mortgage credit growth, especially for Investor housing finance, during this recent rate cut period. There appears to be an increasing disconnect between the relatively weaker underlying business conditions and say, the strength of the housing market.

Since Dec 2011, the mortgage credit impulse in Australia has gone from -2% to -0.09% of GDP at June 2013. The high point was May 2013 at 0.33% of GDP. Clearly a far smaller impact than the Business credit impulse.


Source: RBA, The Macroeconomic Project 

Whilst there is appears to be a slight pull back in the latest months to June 2013, the growth in new mortgage credit (not as a % of GDP) appears to hit a new high in Sept 2013. This is also reflected in the accelerating rate of growth in total real mortgage lending (chart below) – yes that small blip at the end of the chart;


Source: RBA, The Macroeconomic Project 

At this level, we can start to ponder where the main effect of the Mortgage credit impulse is felt. The effect of rising mortgage debt and a rising mortgage impulse (rising faster than housing supply) could be seen in economic growth, but is likely to show up more directly in a change in house prices.

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t benefits from a GDP perspective. These benefits might include transaction costs based on the exchange of dwellings – stamp duty, solicitor fee’s, realtor fee’s etc. Rising house prices can signal the potential for new supply requirements. Construction of new dwellings would have a far reaching economic growth impact through higher employment, income etc. The final way is through higher asset prices – and the ability to use equity to fund more spending. But few scenarios here relate the growth in debt to growth in the future earning capacity of the Australian economy.

Most of the recent lift in the mortgage credit impulse is due to Investment lending. The steepness of the Investor credit impulse curve shows just how strong Investors have been in this market relative to Owner Occupiers.

Since the Dec 2011 qtr, the credit impulse has moved from -1.3% of GDP to +0.17% of GDP in June 2013. It reached a high of 0.7% of GDP in Jan 2013. Again, this is a far smaller impact relative to the Business credit impulse.


Source: RBA, The Macroeconomic Project 

Investors have been leading the way during this spate of interest rate cuts, and whilst the chart above shows momentum stalling, the growth in new credit between July & Sept 2013 has accelerated again. See below growth in real Investment housing credit;


Source: RBA, The Macroeconomic Project 

There has been far more gradual growth in the Owner Occupier credit impulse (below). Despite a negative credit impulse, the slope is positive and that’s the important point. Since the start of rate cuts in Dec 2011 the impulse has improved from -0.8% to -0.27% of GDP in June 2013. The strength in the Investor-led credit impulse has helped to make up for the weaker, but improving, Owner Occupier credit impulse;


Source: RBA, The Macroeconomic Project 

Growth in real Owner Occupier financing has also grown fairly consistently since Feb 2013 and the latest 3 months of data suggests that the credit impulse is likely to continue its modest improvement into the Sept 2013 qtr.


Source: RBA, The Macroeconomic Project 

What it is also saying is that owner occupiers have been quite late to the party on housing.

Personal Credit Impulse

Personal credit has seen a recent uptick in activity which is a positive sign for consumption spending growth in the economy. Since Dec 2011, the Personal credit impulse has gone from -0.3% to +0.2% of GDP. A smaller effect but it will impact spending growth nonetheless.


Source: RBA, The Macroeconomic Project 

Without a doubt, there has been an improvement in rate of growth. But the improving credit impulse can be related back to a slow-down in the decline of real personal credit growth – note the chart below. Current growth is a far cry from the growth in personal credit pre-2008 of anywhere between 5% and 15% growth.


Source: RBA, The Macroeconomic Project 

In the latest months from July to Sept 2013, real personal credit declined by 1% each month – which is an improvement over the June result of -2%.

The stock of outstanding Personal debt has fallen from a high of 13% of GDP to 9% of GDP in the June 2013 qtr.


Source: RBA, The Macroeconomic Project 

The trend is improving but it’s not exactly a ‘snap-back’ rally in personal credit growth. Its also possible that some of the lending traditionally called ‘Personal’ may now be accounted for in mortgages via redraw and offset facilities.  

But with household mortgage debt is back near its highs (84% of GDP), a weak labour market (PT growth over FT growth) and wage growth slowing, its no wonder Personal credit growth is low. 

Unless one of these constraints is removed/reduced, personal credit growth is likely to remain subdued. 

But counteracting this data is the improving consumer confidence index. Together with the slightly improving personal credit impulse, it could be signalling a shift in consumer attitude back to greater consumption. If we see improvements in the labour market, then spending and confidence are likely to improve further.

There have been two key drivers of the credit impulse in Australia over the last six months; 

  • the negative performance of the Business credit impulse, &
  • the positive performance of the government credit impulse

The impact of an improving Mortgage & Personal credit impulse has not been enough to counteract the negative Business credit impulse. Several points about this:-

  • Its been a lucky co-incidence that Government borrowing has helped to stave off the negative impact of the Business credit impulse. But with the Liberal government committed to bringing the budget back into surplus, Government may not be a source of spending growth in the future.
  • In a later post I’ll highlight that the Mortgage impulse and the resulting impact on house prices, does not reflect a broad-based uplift in housing – which is probably why the mortgage impulse hasn’t had a more influencing effect. This is really a much bigger issue. The effect of an improving mortgage impulse will likely stimulate house prices – but is it big enough to rebalance growth in the economy? As more established houses are sold at higher prices, more debt is created but this debt accumulation isn’t an investment in the future prosperity of the economy.
  • The real issue for our economy is the contraction of business activity ie via investment & cost cutting – in response to slack/capacity in the economy. Why is that? Demand for debt (& therefore spending ability) seems constrained apart from investment housing. The shift in interest rates hasn’t moved the credit impulse in a proportional way. Accumulation of debt, together with income, has been a source of spending growth in the past. So do we now have our fill of debt?

The huge fear is that as a result of lower interest rates, we’ve only managed to see rising house prices, more debt, little/no improvement in business investment and therefore no change or improvement in economic growth prospects. If business isn’t investing in expanding capacity or improving competiveness (beyond reducing costs) then the RBA will be hard-pressed to achieve its rebalancing.