RBA not fazed by red hot housing market

Marion RaeAAP
Economists are looking for any hints of concern surrounding the housing market.
Camera IconEconomists are looking for any hints of concern surrounding the housing market. Credit: AAP

The Reserve Bank knows it is fuelling cheap finance for home buyers, as property prices surge in cities and the regions, but is not worried about undue risk to financial stability.

To date the growth in asset prices has not been associated with a significant increase in the growth of debt, according to the RBA’s twice-yearly assessment of Australia’s financial system issued on Friday.

Housing price growth, and to a lesser extent housing borrowing, has picked up notably in recent months and is being watched closely by regulatory authorities.

Housing prices in many economies have been rising, which has mitigated the risk earlier in the pandemic that falling prices would result in significant losses on mortgage lending.

“In an environment of accommodative financial conditions with rising asset prices it is particularly important that there is not excessive risk-taking by the financial sector,” the central bank said.

Increased risk-taking by lenders could take the form of looser lending standards for individual loan assessments, or a relaxation of internal limits on the share of riskier loans they make.

“Even if lenders do not weaken their own settings, increased risk-taking by optimistic borrowers could see a deterioration in the average quality of new lending,” the bank said.

This would weaken the resilience of businesses and households, and so the financial system, to future shocks.

The RBA cited improvement in residential lending standards dating to the mid-2010s as helping to ensure borrowers were well placed to weather the recession, “demonstrating the benefits to the financial system and the economy of appropriately controlling risks”.

In the previous review, issued last October, the central bank warned of the risk of falling house prices because of reduced housing demand from very low immigration and rising unemployment.

RBA governor Philip Lowe reiterated earlier this week he has no intention of raising rates with inflation and employment targets still well out of reach.

But he is keen to see banks maintain lending standards in what is now a hot housing market.

During Australia’s 2015 housing boom, financial regulators were forced to step in with a suite of measures to curb investor lending.

Since then, banks have overhauled checks and balances following revelations at the banking royal commission.

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