22 Jan 2015

Banks' mortgage war heats up

7:41 pm on 22 January 2015

More of the country's banks, including two of the largest, have joined the pack in cutting home loan rates - and there's a prediction more cuts will follow.

Auckland housing, pictured from Mt Eden.

Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

The ANZ and ASB are now offering a two-year rate of 5.55 percent for borrowers who have at least a 20 percent deposit, matching an offer announced by Kiwibank last week.

The Cooperative Bank has cut its rates across the board, as has Bank Direct and Taranaki Savings Bank. Only Westpac is holding out.

Institute of Economic Research principal economist Shamubeel Eaqub believes that over the next three months fixed mortgage rates could fall by half a percent.

However, Cooperative Bank chief executive Bruce McLachlan was more cautious.

"I don't think you're going to see significant fall from here, but I think you are potentially, just through competitive pressures, likely to see, from time to time individual terms coining in at lower prices."

Mr McLachlan said the borrowing costs of banks had gone down in line with falling oil prices bring down global inflation.

Last March, the Reserve Bank was forecasting its official cash rate would be 3.75 percent by the end of 2014 and 4.75 percent by 2015.

But it is 3.5 percent at present - and economists do not expect it to go up again until next year.

They do warn however it was balancing act - and that if mortgage rates drop too much, it indicates inflation is too low to keep the economy ticking along.

Most economists predict the Reserve Bank will leave the official cash rate unchanged at its reviews next week.

Westpac New Zealand chief economist Dominick Stephens said the price of oil had plunged, reducing inflation all around the world including in New Zealand.

He said with such low inflation, the Reserve Bank had to keep the official cash rate on hold, and may even consider reducing it, with a flow-on effect to commercial banks.

Rents stable

Meanwhile, online auction house Trade Me says rents nationwide have remained static for five months and have risen just 5 percent in the past year.

It said the national median rent of $400 a week had changed little all of last year.

Over the past five years, median rents have risen just $50 a week.

This is in stark contrast with the purchase price of houses which has risen sharply in many regions.

TradeMe's property division head Nigel Jeffries told Checkpoint the rental market and the sales market could be complete opposites.

He said in the last five years housing capital appreciation had gone up about 26 percent while rents have risen about 14 percent.

"To a large extent, we think that is because landlords are very happy - and rightly so - to accept their return by capital appreciation. They have no need to go and chase yield eg by putting up rents."

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