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Editorial﹕Easing of loan-to-value ratios might lead to misconception

【明報專訊】FOR two consecutive days Paul Chan, the Financial Secretary, has mentioned contemplating relaxing the loan-to-value (LTV) ratio, giving rise to widespread speculation. To many prospective buyers who can afford the mortgage payments but struggle to come up with the down payment, the relaxation of the LTV ratio will be a piece of good news. However, such measures will definitely have the effect of "propping up the market". They are two inseparable sides of the same coin.

Amid falling private property prices in Hong Kong in recent months, some people in the real estate industry have been making incessant calls for the government to relax LTV ratios and withdraw the "tough measures". Paul Chan says that the government does not intend to relax the three "tough measures" — the special stamp duty, buyers' stamp duty and double stamp duty, while the easing of LTV ratios is negotiable. He explains that, in view of the fact that some young people have the ability to pay the mortgage but do not have enough savings for the down payment, the government will study the possibility of relaxing the LTV ratio "under appropriate circumstances" based on four criteria if two prerequisites — that the measure will not add to the risks faced by the banking system and that the property market will not be fuelled by the move — are met.

Over the past ten years, the government has introduced a number of measures to regulate the property market with different emphases. The three tough measures are mainly aimed at curbing speculative activities by increasing the cost of speculation and investment in the property market, while the HKMA's countercyclical measures — including the tightening of LTV ratios — are mainly about strengthening the management of credit risks to prevent overly high loan ratios on the part of buyers. These measures limit the risks faced by the banking system within a manageable scope even when the market fluctuates. However, the HKMA's tightening of LTV ratios also has the effect of reducing citizens' demand for housing. Currently banks only lend 50% to 60% of the property's value at most. Having difficulty saving up for the down payment, young people often have to count on either their parents or the second mortgage offered by the developers of new flats to get on the property ladder. Some believe that the government can bring back the basic LTV ratio to the 2015 level, which will mean revising the ratio upwards from 60% to 70% for property worth less than $10 million so as to help first-time buyers and real users.

Hong Kong banks are facing much lower mortgage risks than in 1997. According to government statistics, more than a million families in Hong Kong are flat owners, more than 65% of whom have paid off the mortgage. This percentage is at an all-time high. From the perspective of credit risks, there is indeed room for easing the LTV ratio requirements. But the government must also carefully consider whether such a move will fuel the property market. The drop in property prices in recent months is to a large extent attributable to external circumstances. Given the serious shortfall in the supply of land in the short to medium term and the lowering of the ratio of private housing in the government's Long Term Housing Strategy, the supply of private apartments is set to reduce. If the unfavourable external circumstances cease to exist, the property market can pick up steam easily.

The government's premature talk of relaxing countercyclical measures can lead to unreasonable expectations by the market. It can give the public the impression that the government is anxious to come to the property market's rescue — it will prop up the market at the slightest fall of property prices. This will reinforce the misconception that "property prices will only go upwards but not downwards".

明報社評2019.01.08﹕放寬按揭成數 易生托市疑惑

財政司長陳茂波連續兩日提及研究放寬按揭成數,惹來市場不少揣測。不少「上車客」有錢供樓沒錢付首期,放寬按揭成數對他們來說是喜訊,不過有關措施也必然起着「托市」效果,二者是一枚硬幣的兩面,無從切割。

近月本港私樓價格回落,地產業界不斷有聲音要求政府放寬按揭成數,以及撤去樓市「辣招」。財政司長陳茂波表示,政府無意放寬額外印花稅、買家印花稅及雙倍印花稅3項「辣招」,不過放寬按揭成數卻有商量。財爺表示,有見一些年輕人有能力供樓,卻沒有足夠首期置業,政府會以不影響銀行體系風險、避免為樓市火上加油作為兩大前提,根據4項因素,研究在「合適情况」之下放寬按揭成數,照顧「上車族」。

過去10年政府推出多項樓市調控措施,各有針對,樓市3辣招主要是增加炒家和投資客成本,打擊炒賣活動,至於金管局的逆周期措施,包括收緊按揭成數等,主要目的是加強信貸風險管理,避免業主貸款比例太高,即使樓市波動,銀行體系承擔的風險仍然可控。不過從實際效果而論,金管局收緊按揭成數,亦有遏抑市民置業需求的作用。由於現時銀行樓按最多只做五至六成,年輕人要儲夠首期並不容易,往往要麼「靠父幹」打本,要麼靠一手樓發展商提供的二按,才有機會「上車」。有意見認為,政府可以將基本按揭成數回復至2015年水平,1000萬元以下住宅物業,按揭成數可由六成上調至七成,幫助首置客及真用家。

現時本港銀行所承受的按揭風險遠比1997年低,政府數據顯示,全港逾百萬家庭擁有自置物業,當中超過六成半已供滿樓,比率升見新高,單從信貸風險角度而論,放寬按揭成數並非沒有空間,可是政府還須審慎考慮放寬安排會否為樓市添柴加薪。近月本港樓價下跌,很大程度受外圍形勢影響,考慮到本港短中期土地供應存在巨大缺口,加上政府長遠房屋策略調低私樓比例,未來私樓單位供應量減少,一旦外圍不利因素減退,樓市很易復熾。

政府太早談論放寬逆周期措施,容易令市場產生不合理期望,甚至令市民覺得政府急於做「樓市救火隊」,樓價跌少許便會出手「托市」,加深「樓價只升不跌」的錯誤觀念。

■Glossary

misconception﹕a belief or an idea that is not based on correct information, or that is not understood by people

prospective﹕expected to do sth or to become sth

reinforce﹕to make a feeling, an idea, etc. stronger

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