Home equity release may cost pension firms billions

UK pension companies may be harbouring billions of pounds of losses from home equity release loans, according to research seen by the BBC.

Under equity release, homeowners borrow money against their house’s value and don’t repay anything until it’s sold.

That’s fine for the borrower, but there are fears lenders have underestimated how much these loans could cost them.

At least one firm assumes house prices will rise 4.25% a year. If they don’t, firms face losses – or even bailouts.

Pensioners whose firms invest in the loans would be protected through the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) which is funded through a levy on the industry meaning losses would be ultimately borne by all pension holders.

Parliament probed insurance rules last year and one MP wants to reinvestigate.

John Mann, MP for Bassetlaw and vice chair of the Treasury Committee, which investigated the market last year, told the BBC: “We need to hold a new hearing, a new session, to go into the issue.” He added: “I think some financial institutions have pushed the boat out too far with this, and that creates a potential systemic risk.”

Parliament’s report was seen as broadly supportive of the industry, focusing on competition and innovation.

Equity release works like this:

  • Borrowers over the age of 55, take out a percentage of the value of the house.
  • They pay nothing; the money is paid back when the borrower dies or moves into care. Interest is added each year or month, and because of compound interest, the loans can grow in size very quickly.
  • Borrowers are safe. The loans come with a guarantee that they won’t have to pay more than the value of the house. Any difference is absorbed by the lender.
  • But the loan can exceed the value of the house it is secured against, especially if borrowers live longer than expected or the value of the house drops, and that threatens some lenders.

‘Bad enough’

The Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA), which oversees the companies offering these loans, says it is considering whether to tighten the rules. But critics say it has been too slow.

“It evokes the global financial crisis, but this is an insurance crisis,” said Kevin Dowd, professor of finance and economics at Durham University and author of the report. “It’s not on the scale of the financial crisis, but it’s bad enough.”

If new rules don’t emerge, house prices continue to rise and there are no surprises for insurers when it comes to people living longer, equity release lenders may never realise these losses.

Image caption Professor Kevin Dowd says poorly priced guarantees could bite insurers

Which is the problem, says Professor Dowd. A property price crash or a period of consistent negative growth would see equity release loans become a loss-maker for their providers. So, says Professor Dowd, equity release providers are gambling that house prices will continue to rise.

‘Prudent Resources’

Just Group, to which borrowers owe more than £6bn of these loans, said last month that a PRA draft “does contain proposals, which if implemented would result in a reduction in Just’s regulatory capital position.” This would mean a smaller financial cushion to absorb losses.

Professor Dowd’s calculations suggest its guarantees could cost it £2bn if accounted for correctly in his view. Just Group declined to comment on his estimate.

It said: “At Just we set aside substantial prudent resources against UK residential property risks. We calculate these on a basis equivalent to a 28% fall in the property market and property prices never rising thereafter which is much stronger than the more severe economic scenarios that the Bank of England prescribes for the banking sector. […] Protecting the guarantees we have made to our policyholders is, and has always been, of paramount importance to Just.”

It declined to comment on the size or nature of these resources, or how they might be affected by a change in the rules.

The PRA watchdog is considering whether to change the rules to stop companies assuming house prices will rise.

Equity release mortgages are increasingly popular as older homeowners seek to top up their retirement funds.

In the three months to the end of June, homeowners aged 55 and above borrowed a record £971m through equity release, according to the Equity Release Council.

Image caption Anne and Chris Lee took out an equity release mortgage,and are covered by a no negative equity guarantee

Case Study: Anne and Chris Lee

They are in their early 60s and borrowed about 30% of the value of their home to finance renovations and help fund their retirement.

Their loan was £112,000, at a rate of 6.78%. It will take just over 10 years for that amount to double.

But they are sitting pretty. And that’s because of the no negative equity guarantee, borne by lenders.

Sharing Professor Dowd’s concerns is Dean Buckner, a former senior technical specialist at the PRA who retired in May. He said progress at his former employer in fixing these loans had been slow. Part of that may be the nature of the regulator and the many roles it must fulfil.

“The regulator is there both to protect firms and to protect the general public,” he said. “The Bank of England has part of its mission statement to protect the good of the people or something like that. I think it’s a horrible failure of regulation and I’m very sorry about that.”

The PRA said in a statement: “Following a review announced in 2015, more robust expectations of firms were published in 2016 and confirmed in 2017. Clearer and more precise tools to determine whether firms are meeting these prudent expectations have been out for public consultation since July 2018.

“They benefit from experience of Solvency II in practice and the collective expertise within the PRA, in which a plurality of views is actively encouraged when determining policy”.

Inflation and poor growth see Bank of England ditch rate rise plans

Interest rates could stay low for as long as another two years, as falling inflation and weak economic growth force the Bank of England to scrap plans to push up rates in the coming months.

Mark Carney is expected to hold rates at 0.5pc at Thursday’s Monetary Policy Committee meeting, postponing a highly-anticipated rate rise for at least three months. The freeze will disappoint savers who have laboured under historically low rates for almost a decade – and a boon to borrowers who get extra time with cheap money.

But economists now suspect that inflation will keep falling quickly towards the Bank’s 2pc target, making it harder for policymakers to raise the rate.

Poor GDP growth at the start of this year and signs of a slowing global economy could also dent the Bank’s longer-term inflation estimates.

If that forces it to cut back its inflation forecast then the case for higher rates could evaporate altogether.

“They are stuck. The Bank can’t raise rates now, the economic numbers have been too weak recently,” said Martin Beck at Oxford Economics. “They should not have raised rates in November, closed the term funding scheme or worried that credit growth was too strong – those three things have contributed to the economy slowing.”

Markets are currently pricing in only two rate rises by August 2019, but George Buckley, an economist at Nomura, thinks even this may be too many if inflation is slowing sharply.

“Should the Bank publish a forecast with inflation below target based on market rates that would be quite a statement, as it would imply that even limited market pricing for rate hikes might prove too much,” he said.

UniCredit’s Daniel Vernazza believes it will be at least another year before rates rise to 0.75pc.

Kallum Pickering at Berenberg Bank fears the Bank has missed its chance. “They should have hiked by this stage of the economic    cycle, but they cannot do it now because of the soft data,” he said.

Number of Build-to-Rent Homes Under Construction Up 47%

The number of build-to-rent properties either completed, under construction or planned has risen significantly across the UK in the past year.

Analysis by Savills, commissioned by the British Property Federation (BPF), reveals there were 117,893 build-to-rent homes recorded across all the stages of development in Q1 2018; a 30% increase on Q1 2017.

Completions, as well as build-to-rent homes under construction, have grown substantially by 45% and 47% respectively, whilst properties in the planning stage have increased by 19%.

Of all the new build-to-rent homes either completed, under construction or planned, 60,530 (51%) are in London, followed by 29,600 in the North West (25%), and 13,009 across the Midlands and Yorkshire & the Humber (11%).

Ian Fletcher, the director of real estate policy at BPF, commented: “The build-to-rent sector is evolving quickly, with significant delivery in the regions and more houses, rather than just apartments, coming forward.

“Policy is also adapting, as to date the sector has grown without a planning blueprint. This is now changing. With the draft revised National Planning Policy Framework, local authorities will now have to specifically identify how many new rental homes their respective areas need.”

Meanwhile, Housing Minister Dominc Raab said: “The 45% increase in completed build-to-rent homes is good news, but we’re restless to do more.

“Our revised National Planning Policy Framework is a crucial next step in supporting the build-to-rent sector, reforming planning rules, and helping to deliver 300,000 homes a year by the mid-2020s.”

Recent analysis from Landbay revealed that rental payments across the UK amount on average to 52% of a household’s disposable income.

Midlands Cities Among Top 10 Buy-To-Let Property Postcodes

London commuter belt towns fall down the rankings as Northampton, Leicester and Birmingham surge

Three of the top five locations for buy-to-let property investments are in the Midlands, according to new research.

Northampton, Birmingham and Leicester were all cited as top postcodes for buy-to-let, with strong rental growth of 2.38%, 3.91% and 4.35% respectively, according to independent mortgage lender LendInvest.

Whilst the Midlands regions have been steadily rising up the rankings, the report highlights the South West region as an up-and-coming market, as strong rental growth and healthy market activity has boosted the profile of cities like Bristol, Swindow, Truro and Gloucester.

Conversely, London and the South East continue to underperform, as declining rents deters further investment in these regional markets.

Historically strong performing commuter towns like Dartford, Romford and St Albans have recent begun to slide down the LendInvest buy-to-let rankings, in some cases by as many as 58 places.

However, the report notes that demand for housing will continue to support future growth: “Political changes are increasingly underpinning this uncertainty in the market, however the need for housing around the UK prevails.

“As such, we can expect the rental market to grow, with investors prioritising yields and rental price growth as valuable metrics to consider when purchasing a property.”

Over the last 10 years, rents have grown by 16% nationally, according to figures from Rightmove.

 

Economy wobbles as factories and building sites stall – putting May interest rate hike in doubt

Economic growth slowed again in February as the construction and manufacturing industries both stalled, a pair of oil refineries closed for maintenance, and the export boost from the weak pound began to fade.

The Bank of England had already cut its first-quarter growth forecasts from 0.4pc to 0.3pc because the icy Beast from the East made families stay at home instead of hitting the shops. But now economists fear even this estimate is too high.

The new figures “look consistent with GDP growth slowing to 0.2pc in the first quarter – below the Monetary Policy Committee’s 0.3pc forecast – from 0.4pc in the fourth quarter, casting doubt over whether a May rate hike is as likely as markets currently expect”, said Samuel Tombs at Pantheon Macroeconomics.

 

“We estimate that economic growth nudged lower to 0.2pc in the first quarter of 2018,” he said.

“The main reason for the weakness was severe weather in March, which is likely to have disrupted activity in all major sectors of the economy.”

Manufacturing output fell by 0.2pc in February, the Office for National Statistics said, and January’s 0.1pc expansion was also revised down to zero.

Falling output of electrical goods, machinery, textiles and plastics hit the figures.

Growth in industrial production overall – which includes manufacturing as well as industries such as mining and quarrying, and utilities – slowed to 0.1pc for the month.

A major cause was that two of the UK’s six refineries were closed for refurbishment. However, growth was supported by February’s unusually cold weather, which boosted domestic energy consumption.

Mark Carney at the Bank of England is expected to raise interest rates to 0.75pc next month – but this weaker data could make him think again Credit: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

At the same time construction output tumbled by 1.6pc in the month, defying expectations of a 0.9pc increase. This drop may not be entirely weather related. The ONS said maintenance work led the decline, even as residential building and infrastructure construction increased.

The trade deficit increased in the three months to February, rising by £0.4bn to £6.4bn, as a dip in imports was more than offset by a larger fall in exports – which the ONS said coincided with a strengthening of the pound.

However, the overall slowdown may only be a temporary wobble, rather than a longer-term slowdown in the economy.

“While a continuation of such news may generate some nervousness in markets about whether the Bank of England will deliver another rate hike next month, it is worth pointing out that there is another full round of economic news before the Bank announces its decision,” said George Buckley at Nomura.

“We continue to expect a 25-basis point move on May 10 on the assumption of better economic news to come.”

Chief economist Lee Hopley at manufacturing industry group EEF said: “The data looks more like a temporary wobble than a turn for the worse. Whilst other indicators may have softened since the start of the year, ongoing growth in the global economy should continue to spur growth across manufacturing in the coming quarters.”

Source https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2018/04/11/economy-wobbles-factories-building-sites-stall-putting-may/

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