Over a decade ago, the U.S. residential housing market was revealed to be perhaps the biggest ponzi scheme ever created as easy financing enabled people to buy/build countless investment properties, that they were in no way adequately capitalized to own, with no money down all based on the premise that the house could be ‘flipped’ before the first mortgage payment even came due. It was a classic ponzi that worked great for a while but inevitably turned south when home prices suddenly soured and their was no cash equity backing the trillions of dollars in outstanding mortgage debt.
But, if a new report from LF Economics is even directionally accurate, then the bubble currently percolating in Australia could take the residential housing ponzi game to a whole new level courtesy of a ‘creative’ little product called “cross-collateralized residential mortgages.”
The Australian mortgage market has “ballooned” due to banks issuing new loans against unrealised capital gains of existing investment properties, creating a $1.7 trillion “house of cards”, a new report warns.
The report, “The Big Rort”, by LF Economics founder Lindsay David, argues Australian banks’ use of “combined loan to value ratio” — less common in other countries — makes it easy for investors to accumulate “multiple properties in a relatively short period of time despite high house prices relative to income”.
“The use of unrealised capital gain (equity) of one property to secure financing to purchase another property in Australia is extreme,” the report says.
“This approach allows lenders to report the cross-collateral security of one property which is then used as collateral against the total loan size to purchase another property. This approach substitutes as a cash deposit.
“This has exacerbated risks in the housing market as little to no cash deposits are used.”
Yes, you read that correctly…Australian housing speculators can literally use unrealized gains in investment properties as a ‘cash substitute’ for down payments on other investment properties. Of course, we’re not experts at ‘the mathematics,’ but if you constantly take every dollar worth of equity you accrue and pledge it as collateral toward a new purchase then doesn’t that mean the entire system is built on debt and no actual equity at all?
As LF Economics points out, just like the American mortgage bubble, the current ponzi scheme in Australia is also completely dependent on constantly rising prices.
The report describes the system as a “classic mortgage Ponzi finance model”, with newly purchased properties often generating net rental income losses, adversely impacting upon cash flows.
“Profitability is therefore predicated upon ever-rising housing prices,” the report says. “When house prices have fallen in a local market, many borrowers were unable to service the principal on their mortgages when the interest only period expires or are unable to roll over the interest-only period.”
And, just like the American bubble, much of the madness is being funded by unsuspecting foreign investors.
LF Economics argues that while international money markets have until now provided “remarkably affordable funding” enabling Australian banks to issue “large and risky loans”, there is a growing risk the wholesale lending community will walk away from the Australian banking system.
“[Many] international wholesale lenders … may find out the hard way that they have invested into nothing more than a $1.7 trillion ‘piss in a fancy bottle scam’,” the report says.
Meanwhile, there is no shortage of ‘success stories’ from people who make next to no money doing their ‘day jobs’ but have been able to acquire dozens of investment properties with nothing but debt.
Last month, a young Sydney couple revealed how they had racked up $1.2 million in debt on a portfolio of five properties in just two years.
Roy Palleson and Rowena Ebona, appearing on the ABC’s Four Corners, said they had no concerns about their debt — nearly 10 times their combined income of $135,000 — and were hoping to expand their portfolio to 20 investment properties “initially”.
Prominent Sydney property investor Nathan Birch, who accumulated more than 200 properties worth an estimated $55 million by channelling the equity from capital gains into deposits for new purchases, earlier this year announced he was selling off some of his portfolio.
Mr Birch blamed the move on tougher loan serviceability restrictions by the banks. “Anytime you withdraw equity, you need to show income to service that new loan,” he said. “Sadly, the banks don’t value rental income as highly as they once did.”
Eddie Dilleen, a young investor with 10 properties worth about $2 million, last month said he was not fazed by tightening lending environment or talks of a housing bubble.
Mr Dilleen said the majority of his portfolio was positively geared, largely because he avoided borrowing against existing properties, instead saving up for each new deposit by working several jobs.
Conclusion: “Short everything that guy has touched.”