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Growth in private sector credit extension (PSCE) decelerated to 3.4% y/y in July from 4% y/y in June against consensus expectations of 3.5% y/y. The slowdown comes on the back of a decrease in mortgage advances, instalment sales credit as well as leasing finance (in absolute terms of –R0.568bn, -R0.653bn and -R0.931bn). Growth in mortgage advances slowed to 6.4% y/y in July from 8.2% y/y in June. On a monthly basis, mortgage advances declined for the first time since September 2002.

Credit demand is likely to remain relatively weak for the rest of the year as balance sheet restructuring by corporates and households will remain the order of the day. Supply of residential housing lagging. On the supply side of the housing market the value of recorded residential building plans passed by large municipalities (at current prices) during January-to-June 2009 decreased by 43% compared to the same period in 2008. The value of residential buildings reported as completed during January-to-June 2009 decreased by 9.5% compared to the same period last year. This is a reflection of the poor performing housing sector.

What are the risks to the property market? It cannot be expected that the housing market will flourish when the economy is under such strain. A number of downside risks are still at play. The global recovery is not yet firmly established; a relatively strong rand could impact adversely on exports and economic growth; inflation may remain high and sticky; a general lack of consumer and business confidence; as well as a constrained labour market with deeper job losses.

This will make for a mild recovery in the property market, which is unlikely to gather any traction this year. Further sharp increases of 31% or more in electricity tariffs and possible increases in the price of oil are in the pipeline over the next few years. This will put upward pressure on inflation and interest rates. On the monetary policy front it looks as if the downward phase of the interest rate cycle has come to an end. The cumulative cuts that commenced in December 2008, however, will still have to filter fully through the economy. The full impact of interest rate cuts on economic growth could take as long as 12-to-18 months, implying that it may be too early to expect substantial economic growth this year.

Outlook: Smoothed growth in the Standard Bank median house price index decreased by a disappointing 5.2% y/y in August, averaging 3.9% y/y in the first eight months of the year. Over the short term, the economic outlook is expected to remain lacklustre; however, relatively positive developments on the inflation front, the global economy and the full impact of lower interest rates, will support the property market in time to come. It is anticipated that house price growth will be negative over the short- to medium term, but likely to improve towards the end of the year as the effect of interest rate cuts impacts the economy and the property market.

 

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Standard Bank has relaxed its lending criteria and no longer requires customers to pay a deposit if they are buying a house priced up to R1.5m, the bank announced at a press briefing on Wednesday.

Until now, Standard Bank required a deposit of 5% to 10% on property purchases valued up to R1.5m. Standard Bank is the first of the big four banks to officially announce the long-awaited move back to the traditional 100% home loan offering.

The advent of the National Credit Act (NCA) in mid-2007, coupled to the global banking crises, prompted SA banks to lower loan-to-value (LTV) requirements on mortgages to anything between 60% and 95%, depending among others on price, type of property and location.

Standard Bank will now also allow first-time homebuyers to qualify for bonds of 104% LTV on mortgages of up to R1m. Houses bought for between R1.5m and R2.5m and those priced above R2.5m will, however, still require deposits of 10% and 20% respectively. Standard Bank is also relaxing its lending criteria in its credit card division, particularly aimed to benefit lower income earners.

Standard Bank South Africa CEO Sim Tshabalala said although the SA economy is still in distress, there are enough positive signs to suggest now is a good time for the bank to increase its appetite for risk in a measured way.

However, Tshabalala said one of the key concerns that remain is the consumer's ability to repay debt, particularly if more job losses are on the cards. Figures released at the press briefing indicate that Standard Bank's non-performing home loan book stands at a whopping R22bn, around 9% of its total mortgage book of R250bn.

That translates into some 34 500 customers who haven't made payments on their home loan for at least three months. A further 37 400 Standard Bank customers, with mortgage debt worth around R23bn, have had their loans restructured because they could no longer afford monthly repayments.

Tshabalala conceded that the number of Standard Bank customers battling to repay mortgage debt is substantial, but stressed that the bank is not "throwing thousands of people out on the streets".

He said Standard Bank would much rather work with people to keep them in their homes and help them restructure their debt than having to incur the cost of going the repossession route.

Tshabalala said since January 2009 Standard Bank has repossessed only 422 properties while another 1 624 distressed customers have agreed to sell their homes under the hammer.

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