In late January the Irish Central Bank announced a set of macro-prudential controls on mortgage lending, Similar regulations have been introduced elsewhere, in line with the new orthodoxy in central banking, which seeks measures to influence credit growth outside the traditional interest rate channel, particularly as rates are currently at historically low levels. The Irish version imposed a loan to value limit of 3.5 on Personal Dwelling Home (PDH) mortgages, but in the current Irish context the second limit, on Loan to Value (LTV) was seen as a more binding constraint. A maximum LTV of 80% is now in operation on PDH mortgage loans, with first time buyers allowed 90% on properties up to €220k. Banks are allowed some discretion , but it is limited in that only 15% of loans can exceed these LTV ceilings.
Contrary to some commentary (and expectation), the controls were not seen as having a material impact on prices, and the Central Bank’s research showed that the main effects would be on mortgage lending and the supply of new housing. Of course the controls would be pointless absent some effect on credit creation and in the Bank’s base case lending falls by 9% on the introduction of the new regulations and subsequently recovers some ground, although remaining below the benchmark case ( i.e. absent any controls) for over seven years. In simple terms the new rules will require prospective buyers to save for longer, which also implies greater pressure on the rental market for any given level of housing demand.
Six months in, there is some evidence that the measures are having an impact across the housing market. Mortgage credit standards tightened appreciably in the first quarter and the latest Central Bank data shows that mortgage demand eased considerably in q2, from very buoyant levels over the past year. That change is also evident in terms of mortgage approvals, with the annual increase slowing sharply in the three months to May, to 17%, from 41% in q1 and 56% in the final quarter of 2014 ( the latter was probably affected by expectations ). Indeed, the annual rise in approvals in May alone was less than 8% and our own mortgage models points to drawdowns for house purchase of 5.2k in q2, unchanged from the previous quarter. New mortgage lending is still growing strongly on an annual basis but at a much slower pace.
Turnover in the housing market , which picked up very sharply in 2014, also appears to be slowing, based on data from the Property Price Register. Transactions amounted to 10.5k in the first quarter of 2015 and also exceeded 10k in q2, but the annual rate of growth slowed to 13% from over 55%. The June figure was actually 7% down on the previous year and although late additions to the Register are common the broad picture is unlikely to be seriously altered.
What about prices? An unusual feature of the current upturn in residential values is the relatively high share of transactions (over 50%) driven by cash and so it would be surprising if the mortgage controls did have a very significant impact in that area. Dublin prices did fall in the first three months of the year, by 1.6%, but rose by 2% in q2, with a similar pattern evident in the rest of the country (a 2% rise following a 0.3% fall). The market has certainly cooled relative to the first half of 2014, but smaller price gains rather than outright falls appears to be the order of the day.
What about private sector rents? Here, data from the CSO does point to an acceleration in what was already a buoyant market; rents rose by 1.7% in the three months to December but then picked up by 3% in the first quarter of 2015, followed by a 2.4% advance in q2. That means rents nationally are only 2% below the all-time highs recorded in 2008 and are therefore likely to surpass that figure by the final quarter of 2015. As for housing supply it is too early to tell. although with only 2,600 completions in q1 the base figure is already very low by historical standards.
The central bank model predictions are therefore panning out in broad terms; mortgage demand has slowed, approvals have eased and transactions have been affected , although the impact on prices has not been dramatic. In addition, the upward trend in rents shows no signs of abating and that perhaps best illustrates the real issue in the market- the shortage of housing supply in the areas people want to live.