Cuts to interest rates help housing credit move off record lows

Deep cuts in interest rates may at last be stimulating household borrowing, with annual growth in housing credit edging up from record lows in April.

Deep cuts in interest rates may at last be stimulating household borrowing, with annual growth in housing credit edging up from record lows in April.

Over the year to April, the value of outstanding home loans grew by $48.8 billion, to $1.29 trillion, Reserve Bank figures showed on Friday.

In percentage terms, housing credit grew by 4.5 per cent over the year, up slightly from its record-low pace of 4.4 per cent in the year to March.

While growth is still sluggish by historical standards, it is the first time the pace of annual expansion has increased since February 2010, and could signal a turning point for the mortgage market.

The increase comes amid signs of stronger auction clearance rates, house price rises and follows the Reserve Bank's move to cut the cash rate to 2.75 per cent last month, lower than what the government called "emergency levels" during the global financial crisis.

However, economists stressed that households still appeared debt-shy, and there were no signs of a rapid lift in borrowing.

ANZ Bank's head of property research, Paul Braddick, said the annual pace of credit growth had probably bottomed, but it was unlikely to increase sharply.

"We think the second half of this year should see it lift slightly higher," Mr Braddick said.

He also stressed that mortgage growth was likely to remain very weak by historical standards. ANZ is tipping a modest rise in the pace of annual housing credit to 5 per cent by 2014, well shy of the growth rates of up to 14 per cent before the global financial crisis.

JPMorgan economist Tom Kennedy noted the rise, but also pointed out that the 4.5 per cent a year growth in housing credit was "still the fourth weakest reading in the history of the RBA's private sector credit data".

Separate figures from the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority highlighted the battle between banks to snare a bigger share of the mortgage market.

With the value of housing loans increasing by an annual pace of 4.5 per cent over the past six months, Macquarie analyst Mike Wiblin said ANZ and NAB had expanded their mortgage books by 6.7 per cent and 6.9 per cent, respectively. Commonwealth Bank's book had grown by about 5 per cent.

"The question is whether the CBA can continue to rein in the business banks," Mr Wiblin said.

Across the economy, total credit has increased by 3.1 per cent in the past year, with business credit growing by just 1.4 per cent.

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