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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Demand rebound lifts residential property market

The residential property market has been experiencing an upturn since the fourth quarter of 2009 as demand rebounded by 7.1% (2009: -2.3%) following improved consumer sentiments. Meanwhile, the increase in housing stock moderated in 2010 as housing started a declining trend.

The widening gap between supply and demand has kept property prices elevated, although at the national level, the Malaysian House Price Index rose only moderately by 6.2% up to the third quarter of 2010. Substantial increases in house prices had been observed in selected locations within and surrounding the urban areas where price increases were up to four times higher than the national house price index.

Price increases in these locations have in turn resulted in prices of properties in the surrounding locations to increase, making homeownership increasingly less affordable for the average Malaysian. There have also been incidents of applications for financing of multiple residential units within a single development project from a single borrower.

To address this development, borrowers are subjected to a loan-to-value (LTV) ratio of 70% for the third and subsequent house financing facilities with effect from Nov 3, 2010. This measure aims to promote a stable and sustainable property market by deterring speculative activity through higher equity requirements for transactions of these nature.

In January 2011, Bank Negara revised the risk weights applied under the capital adequacy framework from 75% to 100% for housing loans with LTVs exceeding 90% to further reinforce prudent underwriting practices.

While a large fraction of household borrowings was collateralised (45.3% was for the purchase of residential properties), personal financing had increased significantly as outstanding personal financing grew by 17.5% to account for 14.6% of household debt last year (2006: 9.6%).

Development financial institutions (DFIs), cooperatives and building societies accounted for the bulk of this growth, with almost 80% granted under salary-deduction schemes. The absence of robust credit and affordability assessments will result in households being more at risk of becoming over-indebted, while the risk of defaulting on financing obligations, including those obtained from other banking institutions, will be higher for borrowers who have over-borrowed.

Excluding the DFIs, personal financing exposures of commercial banks increased at a lower rate of 13% to account for 8.6% of banking system household loans.

Despite a reduction in the number of cards owned by households following the imposition of a RM50 fee by the Government on credit cards in 2010, outstanding credit card balances increased by 15.2% to RM30.8bil as at end-2010 to account for 5.3% of household debts. Similarly, outstanding balances per credit cardholder rose by 15.1% to RM9,516 as at end-2010. The number of credit card holders with revolving balances (excluding defaulters) accounted for 47.9% of total credit cardholders.

More than half of credit cardholders with revolving balances were those earning an annual income of RM36,000 and below. Meanwhile, the level of non-performing loan (NPL) ratio for credit cards issued by banks and non-banks remained low at 1.7%. To ensure that credit card debts are maintained at manageable levels, a number of pre-emptive measures have been introduced, including raising minimum income eligibility, limiting the number of credit card ownership and aggregate credit limit for those with annual income of RM36,000 and below.

Loans-in-arrears across most categories of household debts remained stable, while loans-in-arrears for personal financing, which drifted upwards in the early part of last year, started to come down in the fourth quarter of 2010. As at end-2010, the NPL ratio for household loans was 2.3%. The ratio of household loan repayment-to-disbursement increased marginally to 87.8%.

The highly-competitive environment and the increased indebtedness of households have called for pre-emptive measures to preserve the resilience of the household sector going forward. Although personal bankruptcies and relapse rate among borrowers under AKPK's Debt Management Programme have been manageable, they have been on the increase since 2007.

Several initiatives have been implemented during the year to ensure the continued resilience of the household sector, including a programme to educate younger and first-time borrowers on responsible borrowing, tighter standards for credit cards and enhanced requirements on the conduct of business by financial institutions in retail financing.

Bank Negara will also issue new guidelines by April on the conduct of business in retail financing, which set the minimum standards to deliver a more responsible approach to lending by the financial institutions.

By The Star