Just weeks after we noted that Australia's household debt to income ratio has ballooned to shocking levels over the past three decades as Sydney is ranked as one of the most overvalued cities in the world, Australia’s regulators have been warned to prepare “contingency plans for a severe collapse in the housing market” that could lead to a “crisis situation” in one or more financial institutions.
Australia has transitioned from the lowest household debt-to-income ratio to the highest in the world, in just three decades.
And now Australia's News.com.au reports that The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) latest in-depth assessment of Australia maintains that while the “current trajectory” of house price declines “would suggest a soft landing... some risk of a hard landing remains.”
Wage stagnation and elevated home prices have turned into the perfect storm that will bring forward a housing crisis.
The Paris-based global forum recommends the Aussie Reserve Bank begin raising the cash rate from its record low as soon as possible to prevent “imbalances accumulating further”.
The RBA last cut the cash rate to 1.5 per cent in August 2016, following an earlier cut to 1.75 per cent in May. There has not been an official cash rate increase since November 2010.
“Australia’s housing market is a source of vulnerabilities due to elevated prices and related household debt. A direct hit to the financial sector from a wave of mortgage defaults is unlikely,” the report says.
“However, if house prices collapse consumer spending could suffer, via negative impact on wealth, including from exposures to bank shares, which would encourage deleveraging. Together with reduced housing-related expenditures, this would put pressure on the whole economy.”
Additionally, News.com reports that while describing the housing market slowdown as “welcome” after a period where prices were overvalued by 5 to 15 per cent and noting current evidence pointed to a soft landing, the OECD said its research in the past “has found soft landings are rare”.
The OECD report recommends contingency plans in the form of “a loss-absorbing regime in the case of financial-institution insolvency”, including controversial “bail-in provisions”.
"... the possibility of financial-institution crisis should not be discounted entirely.”
Finally, the OECD notes, unlike in the US or EU, the law does not include provisions that would automatically convert some unsecured senior bonds and deposits from other banks into equity in the event of a crisis
“The absence of explicit bail-in provisions could slow down the speed of resolution and risk encouraging financial institutions to gamble for resuscitation.”
Notably, OECD's ominous warnings come after RBA deputy governor Guy Debelle raised alarms (after Q3 GDP dramatically undershot expectations at just 2.8%) by suggesting the next move in rates could be down, not up, and floated the possibility of controversial money printing policies known as quantitative easing in the event of a crisis.
As John Rubino recently noted, for the past few years, homeowners just about everywhere have been able to finesse life’s problems by thinking “at least my house is going up.”... But now that’s ending, and a reverse wealth effect is kicking in. Homeowners are seeing their home equity – aka their net worth – stop growing and in some cases drop by shocking amounts. In Australia it’s $1,000 a week, which is enough to darken the mood of pretty much anyone not in the 1%. A consumer with a dark mood is an unenthusiastic shopper because new debt accelerates the decline in net worth.
As home prices fall, so therefore does “discretionary” spending. Australians will continue to eat and to air condition their bedrooms, but they’ll cut way back on vacations, new cars, etc. And the debt-based part of the economy will suffer. This will cause stock prices to fall, knocking another leg out from under the average citizen’s net worth and making them even less likely to splurge. And so on.
Credit-bubble capitalism depends on mood, which makes it fragile. That fragility is about to be on full display pretty much everywhere.