sme

We need to change direction - our housing credit bubble is leaving business behind

Interesting article by Christopher Joye in the AFR today - see below - calling out our policy makers for spurring on our consumer credit bubble. Businesses are left behind.

It really matters that credit should be available for business purposes to finance growth. But our system allows banks to leverage house loans 40 times compared to 'only' 10 times for an SME loan.

So small-medium sized businesses that employ must of us don't get a look in...unless they own some real estate of course.

BANK LENDING TO SMES IS IN LONG TERM DECLINE GLOBALLY AND IN AUSTRALIA – OUR BANKS HAVE TURNED INTO BUILDING SOCIETIES AND THIS IS HOLDING BACK OUR ECONOMY

Our banks only want to lend against houses. Since 2013, only 11% of new business lending in Australia has gone to small businesses with little growth:

  • Most of the $900bn of loans outstanding to businesses goes to the big end of town
  • $269bn lent to SMEs is swamped by over $1,500bn in residential mortgage lending
  • Banks see SMEs as a critical source of cheap deposits – SME deposits far outweigh SME loans
  • But SMEs employ the bulk of our workforce

Due to global regulatory capital rules (Basel III), mortgages are more than 3 times more profitable than SME loans:

  • Real estate carries a risk weighting of 25% but SME loans require 100% (75% if backed by real estate)
  • Banks have effectively withdrawn from their original purpose: facilitate commerce

Meanwhile SME growth and employment is constrained by lack of cashflow facilities:

  • Banks will only lend to SMEs with real estate security which is a problem in a service based economy
  • The ATO/taxpayer is forced to act as lender of last resort (ATO is owed $12.5bn in tax by SMEs and growing rapidly)
  • Tight cashflow holds back growth:

The RBA is blowing the mother of all bubbles

Can history be repeated? A mistake was cutting rates after the Fed's initial rate hikes "led to a sharp downturn in the housing market in 1966". RICHARD DREW

Can history be repeated? A mistake was cutting rates after the Fed's initial rate hikes "led to a sharp downturn in the housing market in 1966". RICHARD DREW

by Christopher Joye

With US employment growth again surprising forecasters and the jobless rate declining to a boom-time 4.7 per cent, below "full-employment", the question is whether central banks, and the Federal Reserve in particular, are "behind the curve".

In research this week Goldman Sachs assessed this using a framework previously advocated by Fed chair Janet Yellen. Goldman found "the Fed's current policy stance is about 1 percentage point easier than prescribed by a Taylor rule that uses a depressed neutral rate" and about 3 percentage points easier when adopting a more normal neutral cash rate of about 4 per cent. The latter assumption "implies that the current policy stance represents the largest dovish policy deviation since the 1970s", which coincided with an inflation break-out.

"The implication that current policy is somewhat 'too easy' is consistent with the fact the [US] financial conditions index remains easier than average and is still delivering a positive growth impulse at a time when the Fed is trying to impose deceleration," Goldmans said.

The investment bank warns "history counsels caution about falling behind" with the experience of the mid 1960s suggesting that inflation increases much more quickly at very low unemployment rates. Back then, years of benign inflation gave way to a sudden spike as the Fed wilted under political pressure not to aggressively tighten rates. A mistake was cutting rates after the Fed's initial rate hikes "led to a sharp downturn in the housing market in 1966".

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen: The third rate hike since the 2007-2009 recession was well telegraphed. Andrew Harnik

Could history repeat itself? Much hinges on policymakers' humility. Central bankers are not fond of acknowledging errors, often rationalising ex post facto via the meme that "this time is different", which can be exacerbated by the desire to propagate an image of infallibility. Remember the once-lionised monetary maven Alan Greenspan?

These risks have certainly spooked interest rate investors, although the adjustment process has a way to run. After the second biggest fall in fixed-rate (as opposed to floating-rate) bond prices in modern history in the December quarter, the spectre of a Fed hike in March - duly delivered this week - has lifted long-term rates further. 

Will RBA ever lift again?

In Australia the 10-year government bond yield is nearing 3 per cent, significantly higher than the sub-2 per cent level traders—gripped by "cheap money forever" fever—priced in September 2016. Current 10-year yields are, however, still miles below the 5.5 per cent average since the Reserve Bank of Australia started targeting inflation in 1993.

Some of the best interest rate traders I know, almost all of whom have never experienced a proper inflation cycle, genuinely believe the RBA "will never hike again".

The problem with a supercilious central bank is the ensuing risk insouciance increases the probability of mistakes. A classic example was a speech given by the RBA's new head of financial stability this week.

According to this revisionist narrative the global financial crisis (GFC) "hasn't fundamentally changed the way we think about financial system stability". The RBA is evidently so sensitive to allegations it has failed to heed the lessons of the GFC—by blowing the mother of all bubbles with excessively cheap money—that it felt compelled to repeat the mantra the crisis had not altered its approach on five separate occasions in the speech. There are demonstrable flaws in this fiction.

First, the RBA never came close to anticipating the GFC. Its financial stability guru, Luci Ellis, published a paper in 2006 arguing"the most important lesson to draw from recent international experience is that a run-up in housing prices and debt need not be dangerous for the macroeconomy, was probably inevitable, and might even be desirable".

Ellis maintained that "the experience of Australia and the UK seems to suggest booms in housing price growth can subside without themselves bringing about a macroeconomic downturn". Two years later the 33 per cent drop in US house prices would trigger the deepest global recession since the great depression.

Second, the GFC necessitated a raft of policy responses that had never been seriously contemplated before, which have transformed the way we think about dealing with shocks and the unanticipated consequences. Contrary to the recommendations of the 1997 financial system inquiry, the Commonwealth guaranteed bank deposits and bank bonds for the first time. The RBA agreed to buy securitised mortgage-backed portfolios via its liquidity facilities, which it had never done, and Treasury independently acquired $16 billion of these loans in the first case of local "quantitative easing".

Banks borrowed more money on longer terms from the RBA than anyone previously envisioned, which led the RBA to create a new bail-out program called the committed liquidity facility. In emergencies banks can now tap over $200 billion of cash instantly at a cost of just 1.9 per cent that makes trading while insolvent an impossibility.

A central tenet of pre-GFC regulation--attributable to the 1997 Wallis Inquiry—was that taxpayers should never guarantee any private firm for fear of inducing "moral hazard". This is the "heads bankers win, tails taxpayers lose" dysfunction that emerges when governments insure downside risk. The RBA has since conceded that the crisis bail-outs unleashed unprecedented moral hazards, such as too-big-to-fail institutions, that require new mitigants.

The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority used to allow the major banks to leverage their equity 65 times when lending against housing because these assets were presumed to be nearly risk-free. Since the 2014 financial system inquiry APRA has been persuaded to deleverage the major banks' home loan books to merely (!) 40 times.

In 2013 the RBA was publicly dismissive of foreign regulators' efforts to contain credit growth via so-called macroprudential interventions to cool hot housing markets. One and a half years later APRA belatedly sought to cauterise the housing boom the RBA's 2012 and 2013 rate cuts precipitated with light-touch macroprudential jaw-boning.

Of course in 2017 the RBA has a different version of events. Apparently it has always seen "macroprudential policy as part and parcel of the financial stability framework". It turns out that "in 2014 the Australian regulators [presciently!] took the [rear-]view that risks were building in the residential housing market that warranted attention".

Actually, none of APRA's December 2014 announcements had any impact until well into 2015 (two years after the boom started) and they proved to be woefully inadequate. This column revealed, for example, that many banks had completely ignored APRA's minimum serviceability tests on home loans.

Good risk management requires intellectual honesty, which is missing in action among those overseeing the "wonder down under".


Read more: http://www.afr.com/personal-finance/the-rba-is-blowing-the-mother-of-all-bubbles-20170316-gv043y?&utm_source=social&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=nc&eid=socialn:twi-14omn0055-optim-nnn:nonpaid-27/06/2014-social_traffic-all-organicpost-nnn-afr-o&campaign_code=nocode&promote_channel=social_twitter#ixzz4bXWSWyAu 
 

Don't Bank on it! Tips on financing business growth

Established businesses that are expanding rapidly face challenges from all sides. They may be winning large contracts with slow-paying major customers, recruiting at a fast pace, experiencing increased competition and market pressures, they may need to invest in production, marketing and development almost simultaneously and the management team may also be looking at new ventures and territories.

If this sounds like you, then you will be familiar with the sensation of having to keep all the plates spinning, while also professionalising your business – perhaps taking on greater financial or managerial clout. You might be recruiting at director-level, while also cementing existing relationships with everyone from new recruits to your oldest customers.

As a thriving, established business, you have already established your credentials but to maintain growth, the business requires more working capital investment.

Most growing mid-sized businesses with revenue of $10-30 million could really do with another $1 million to fund growth. But where do you find it?

Raising equity from business angels does not make sense for most established businesses. Few owners are happy to give up control of their business. Similarly, few businesses fit the criteria of business angels who look for unique companies with strong growth potential and solid prospects for a sale of the business in the medium term.

At the other end of the spectrum is your bank. Unfortunately, banks require real estate security so it will be impossible to obtain meaningful working capital finance from a bank without pledging a substantial amount of real estate. Business owners waste a lot of valuable time looking for an overdraft from their bank.

Filling the void, peer-to-peer business loans can provide an alternative source of finance. These sources of funding are thriving but are typically only able to provide up to $150k on an unsecured basis. The costs are quite high and the need to repay monthly over a 6 month term makes even less sense for growing businesses.

However, there is another key option: your existing sales ledger can also provide a valuable source of cashflow with larger facility sizes ($1m+) than available from unsecured lenders.

Historically, the only option was factoring which involves onerous contracts and the consent of your customers. An ancient model, literally as it was invented around 4,000 years ago in Mesopotamia, it doesn't work for most businesses.

Now there is a much better way - confidential invoice trading. Online invoice trading platforms connect businesses with a pool of investors who will advance funds against existing valid invoices. Instead of waiting out long payment periods, businesses trade their invoices and receive a percentage of their value – around 80% - with a minimal waiting time. All without involving your customers.

Online or alternative invoice finance improves on the traditional approach to invoice finance and factoring considerably.

It is possible to trade a single invoice, rather than surrendering a complete sales ledger to a provider. The technology platform keeps costs low, and decisions on creditworthiness are rapid. Generally, platforms approve businesses within a day, provided they can produce bank statements and accounts. Once invoices are validated funds can be made available straightaway. Costs come in at around one to three per cent, but over time this kind of finance becomes more cost-effective, with discounts for subsequent invoices.

Invoice finance is a useful means of improving cash flow and unlocking access to working capital. It is also particularly helpful for businesses considering export markets where payment cycles can be unpredictable particularly in the short term.

Check out the alternatives to banks. Speak to a finance broker or your accountant or enquire directly with providers that seem to fit your needs.

Rapid growth in finance options for small-medium sized businesses

Interesting article in The Australian today covering a survey by eBroker which gives insights on the rapid growth in non-bank business lenders.

The question of regulation of business lenders is generally not well understood, we find. As neither an AFSL or credit licence is not required to lend to businesses, you cannot obtain one even if like us you would like one. The same applies to established non-bank lenders like Scottish Pacific. So there’s a bit more to it than APRA. 

In 2008, COAG agreed to a two phase reform process for the regulation of credit and that in Phase Two the Commonwealth would consider the need to change the definition of regulated credit, and to address practices and forms of contracts that were not subject to the Credit Act. After lengthy consultation, on 21 December 2012, the Minister for Financial Services and Superannuation, Bill Shorten, released for public consultation draft legislation to address perceived gaps in existing credit regulation and enforcement. In typical “Yes Minister” style, after many detailed contributions, the consultation was kicked into the long grass because another inquiry, the Financial Systems Inquiry, had started!

With an increasing focus on the problems for SMEs in accessing finance, hopefully this issue will rear its head again as we certainly need some standards to be applied. For example, effective interest rates (APR) which very few seem to understand.

Loans flood in for fintechs

THE AUSTRALIAN

JUNE 22, 2016

 

Michael Bennet

Extract:

Non-bank business lenders are receiving more than $1.1 billion of loan applications every month as awareness of new fintech operators and other alternative providers accelerates, according to a new survey.

Providing insight into the level of demand for loans outside traditional banks, the survey by online business lending aggregator eBroker found non-banks were attracting at least 11,676 loan applications a month, worth $1.13bn.

Non-banks are alternative lenders that don’t take deposits, sidestepping the need for a full banking licence and oversight by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority.

The survey, conducted with marketing company WebBuzz, took place in early May and included the chief executives of 29 non-bank business lenders, including providers of unsecured cash flow loans, equipment finance, invoice discounting and trade finance.

"We are a young country that has to use its capital smarter" - Don Argus

Some wise words from one of our most experienced business people. Lending to small-medium sized businesses is shrinking at a time where we need them to grow.

There needs to be a real focus on what is constraining growth and the answer is not found talking to economists, we think. Any discussion with the management of a growing business turns to working capital very quickly. No growth finance, no growth.

What keeps former NAB boss and BHP chairman Don Argus up at night?

One of the most experienced executives in the country, Don Argus has concerns about lending standards. Nic Walker

by Stewart Oldfield

What scares the "hell out of" Don Argus, a former chief executive of National Australia Bank and former chairman of BHP Billiton?

Iron ore prices? Interest rate rigging scandals? No. It is interest-only home loans.

"It scares the hell out of me – the size of the debt people are taking on without principal repayments," he says.

The famously forthright executive says banks giving million-dollar home loans to young people had lost perspective. "It used to be very difficult to get a home loan in the old regulated banking environment," he says. "Now it's like a commodity."

According to data compiled by the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority, interest-only mortgage loan approvals peaked at a record 46 per cent of total mortgage loan approvals in the June quarter of last year. 

Since then, their proportion of total mortgage approvals has reduced to 37 per cent, still much higher than the level of five years earlier.

NEGATIVE GEARING

The Reserve Bank said last month that further falls were possible in the proportion of interest-only loans being written as some banks continued to phase in the tighter lending standards being demanded by regulators.

"Some further falls in the share of high-LVR [loan-to-value ratio] lending and interest-only lending in the period ahead could be expected," the RBA says.

Interest-only loans have been particularly popular among those buying homes for investment purposes. Such loans can allow high-income earners to maximise the benefits of negative gearing.

Argus' views on interest-only loans are taken seriously in banking circles because he built his career around being rigorous on lending standards in the late 1980s and early '90s, avoiding the disastrous commercial loan exposures that hobbled his peers.

He was appointed head of NAB's credit bureau in 1986 and took over the top job from Nobby Clarke in October 1990,  remaining in the role until 1999.

He became chairman of what was then called BHP Limited from 1999 until 2010, when he oversaw a tremendous period of expansion as the company reaped the rewards of the resources boom.

INDEBTED CONSUMERS

The level of indebtedness among Australian consumers and the government is a drag on economic growth, according to Argus. This is already being seen as stimulatory monetary policies around the world fail to inspire consumer spending.

 He says Australian consumers are among the most indebted in the developed world and the governments that have been  embracing interest-only loans will leave a terrible legacy for future generations.

Argus says a correction in house prices is inevitable, starting with the apartment market. But he is not predicting a severe credit cycle as last seen in the early '90s when corporate losses and inflated asset values brought several Australian banks to their knees.

"It may not be as severe because bankers these days do understand that free cash flow is important when assessing the risk profile of corporates," he says. 

"But it remains to be seen how their risk-assessment processes stand up when interest rates begin to rise again for small business and consumer customers."

 Argus says a target of a 15 per cent return on equity for banks could prove difficult to sustain. "In today's diminishing return world, one should not forget that our large bank balance sheets rely on funding from offshore markets and this can become expensive at maturity if overseas banks falter in the wake of slower economic growth."

SPOOKED

That said, he believes it is prudent for banks around the world to rely more on tier 1 capital rather than debt instruments such as hybrids, which could be questionable in terms of tax deductibility and subordinated to other forms of funding. 

"You can never have enough equity capital," he says.

Australian banks have been strengthening their capital positions in recent years in anticipation of APRA's measures to address the financial system inquiry's recommendation for their capital ratios to be "unquestionably strong" by international standards. The big banks raised $5 billion of common equity over the past six months. This increased their common equity tier 1 capital to about 10 per cent of risk-weighted assets as of December 2015, 1.25 percentage points higher than a year ago.

The capital positions of some are also being supported by asset sales.

Argus says Australian banks have an important advantage over overseas ones, particularly in the US, given their relatively high level of non-interest-bearing and fixed‑term deposits. He attributes this to Australian consumers still seeing banks as safe havens compared with some of the collapses that have occurred offshore.

He has previously warned that a royal commission into banking conduct in Australia could spook foreign lenders at a time when domestic banks depended enormously on offshore lending.

GEOGRAPHICAL ADVANTAGE

He highlights the strengths of several Australian-listed companies. Macquarie Bank's fee-based business model, he says, is "probably as good an investment banking model that you will see".

BlueScope Steel has successfully reinvented its business model, while Amcor has demonstrated a record of consistent wealth creation. He also applauds Transurban's initiative in taking new infrastructure proposals to the Victorian government.

Argus says Australia's geographical position on the doorstep of Asia ensures the nation has a magnificent future as long as we take full advantage of its strengths, for instance in primary industry, education and health. 

"We are a young country that has to use its capital smarter," he says.

However, he is critical of the performance of governments since 2007. "We have managed to record a series of budget deficits, which leaves us with public debt, which will get the attention of the rating agencies, and the investments undertaken have hardly been productive.

"Going forward, if one thinks that one can ramp up GDP growth by spending billions on non-productive initiatives and promising unfunded activity, which only add to our fragile financial position, then we are in for some rough times ahead."


Read more: http://www.afr.com/personal-finance/shares/what-keeps-former-nab-boss-and-bhp-chairman-don-argus-up-at-night-20160420-goayvr#ixzz49Aqrvks9 
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What could the Government do to fix our Broken Business Banks? And why does it really matter?

Insightful analysis by Alan Kohler in The Australian this weekend on what is holding business back and the negative effects on our economy. Sadly, our politicians seem to be disconnected from the reality of how to manage our economy.

How banks are running the economy

"A small business tax break is worthwhile perhaps, and likewise an RBA rate cut, and in each case it’s really all the government and the central bank can do."

Our view:

The Government could get involved investing modest sums on alternative finance platforms, like the UK Government did 3 years ago with powerful positive effects (and good returns on investment).

That would help overcome people's natural caution and skepticism. People tend to think that banks have some super-natural powers in deciding who is creditworthy. Overseas' experience makes it clear that they are simply expensive, bureaucratic building societies that have lost their way.

My father was a bank manager and retired when the computer took away his discretion. Bank managers in his days had real discretion and could support businesses with their growth plans. We need to re-invent banking by going back to why they came into existence in the first place. It had nothing to do with household mortgages which simply inflated the price of unproductive assets.

 

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Here's a more detailed extract from Alan's article:

APRA, in line with global bank regulators, has also told them to increase their capital ratios, and since the system of risk-weighting means that only a quarter of the value of a real estate mortgage is counted against capital versus 100 per cent of a loan secured only against a business, that means all lending these days is more or less confined to mortgages.

It means the banks are basically not lending to those who don’t own a house or are already fully committed on their mortgages, and those who are building houses for investors.

So they are going elsewhere and paying 10-15 per cent more in interest than the banks would charge, except they’re not.

It means the divide between the haves and have-nots (a house, that is) has never been this great, and it’s also why this week’s rate cut by the Reserve Bank will make no difference and why the government’s efforts in the budget to help small businesses and middle income earners will only scratch the surface.

Banks actually run the economy by both creating money and circulating it, not the RBA or the government, and these days banks are only serving those who have equity in real estate.

According to economist Saul Eslake, home ownership rates among households headed by people aged 25 to 55 have dropped by an average of 9 per cent since 1991.

Most dramatically, the rate of home ownership among 25-34 year olds has fallen from 61 per cent in 1981 to 47 per cent in the latest census.

That is a huge social change: in one generation the number of families starting out and having children who also own their own home has dropped from almost two-thirds to less than half, and in the past 10 years the decline is accelerating.

It means the number of young people able to get a bank loan to start or expand a business, or to get a car loan or personal loan for anything less than 15 per cent interest, has also fallen significantly.

And a lot of that change is caused by the real estate market distortion inherent in negative gearing and the capital gains tax discount, which rewards highly geared property investors at the expense of owner-occupiers, who are in turn paying higher taxes than they otherwise would be in order to fund the subsidy to property investors.

So the combination of high house prices caused, in part, by negative gearing and the capital gains discount, with the transformation of banks into little more than building societies that lend almost exclusively against real estate, is the reason growth is weak.

A small business tax break is worthwhile perhaps, and likewise an RBA rate cut, and in each case it’s really all the government and the central bank can do.

But what’s really crimping entrepreneurship and growth is the post-GFC change to banking.

It means business people looking to expand have to come to Shylocks like your correspondent.

Most don’t bother.

Our Growth Capital Problem

According to the Australian Private Equity & Venture Capital Association - AVCAL - Australia has around 30,000 businesses which fall within the private equity ‘investment range’ (i.e. businesses that have growth potential and which are likely to require significant capital injections to realise that potential) (see Figure 2).

Many of those businesses will, at some point in the medium-term, seek investors for a variety of reasons such as succession planning, expansion capital, and turnaround financing.

PE funds are currently invested in fewer than 350 businesses in Australia: meaning that they presently have the funding capacity to financially back less than 2% of the total ‘investable pool’ of up to 30,000 businesses.

Combined with the regulatory capital constraints imposed on SME bank lending, accessing finance for growing businesses in Australia has rarely been tougher.

An Australian First : the first SME loan book ever to be disclosed

In an industry first, InvoiceX has today published its full loan book as part of its push for greater transparency in Australian SME finance.

The loan book contains anonymised data on more than $6.5 million of invoice trades from the platform’s launch on 20 November 2014 to 31 December 2015.

During this period, InvoiceX facilitated 201 trades for SMEs with an average trade face value of $33,098, weighted average discount fee of 1.17% per calendar month and average settlement period of 35 days. Larger trade values of close to $200,000 in the last three months of 2015 saw average trade face value increase to $44,133.

We want to ensure that all business owners in Australia who are eager to grow have access to transparent and fair finance which puts the rights of borrowers at the centre of the lending process.

We have set ourselves ambitious targets to help Australian businesses grow.  Our institutional-grade platform is ready to service the needs of our customers on a low cost basis. As a result, we are confident that we can provide the best deal for growth capital in Australia.

The data is available publicly for anyone to download and will be updated regularly.

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