Thursday, May 27, 2010

Economics 27/05/2010: Mortgages arrears

RTE reports on the CB data on mortgage arrears, stating that:
"New figures from the Central Bank show a 13% increase in the number of mortgages [90-days or more] in arrears [relative to December 2009]. However, the figures also show a fall in the number of legal actions taken by financial institutions to enforce outstanding mortgage debt."

At the end of Q1 2010, over 4% of all private residential mortgage accounts in Ireland were in arrears - the total of over 32,000 of 791,000 mortgages worth €118bn. Median duration of arrears was in excess of 180 days.

"The Central Bank notes a drop of 4.8% in the number of arrears cases in which legal proceedings have been issued. There are just over 3,000 such cases. During the first quarter of this year, 91 properties were repossessed by banks, 26 on foot of court orders and 65 by voluntary agreement of the borrowers or by abandonment. At the end of March mortgage lenders held 456 repossessed residential properties."

The issues not raised by either the CB or RTE are:
  1. Have the banks willingness to pursue cases in court been impacted in any way by Nama operations? Nama is a political entity, with potential to influence banks internal decisions.
  2. With median duration of mortgages arrears of 180 days, can we expect the number of cases heard in courts to dramatically accelerate in H1 2011?
  3. Mortgages reported in arrears do not include mortgages where lender and borrower have renegotiated mortgage covenants, avoiding arrears by switching to interest-only mortgages and/or changing maturity profile of the mortgage, and/or extending a payment holiday.
  4. What is the median/average size of the mortgage in arrears. It is likely that mortgages currently under stress are larger and cover properties with much more significant extent of the negative equity.
  5. What is the sensitivity of arrears to interest rate changes. The statistical eagles in the CB - we do have some there, right? - can easily compute the sensitivity of mortgages default to changes in retail interest rates. All they need for this is longer-run data on mortgages defaults, retail rates, macroeconomic parameters, housing prices etc. Shouldn't take much of time or effort for the CB to get this useful estimate. We can then see just how damaging the ongoing increases in mortgage rates by the banks will be to this society and economy.
In effect, we are only seeing the tip of an iceberg here.

Now, one interesting revelation that comes on the foot of these figures is the spread of mortgage debt burden in the country. 791,000 mortgages are outstanding, involving on average more roughly 2 individuals, majority of whom are in employment. This implies that mortgages debt cover in the workforce accounts for roughly 1,580,000 individuals, or 73% of the entire labor force.

Another thing - with 73% of working (or able to work in theory) households already carrying a mortgage (or two), and defaults on mortgages rising 13% per quarter, I guess two natural questions to ask are:
  • In the short run: What stabilization in the property markets can one discern here?
  • In the long run: what hope can the Government have to collect any sort of serious wealth tax, when most of our wealth has been tied up in, by now, largely devalued property?

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