Everything you always wanted to know about long-term fixed-rate mortgages but were afraid to ask

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1 CML Housing Finance Issue Everything you always wanted to know about long-term fixed-rate mortgages but were afraid to ask What is a long-term fixed-rate mortgage (LTFRM)? There is no clear definition of when a fixed rate becomes "long term". Some UK consumers might consider five year fixes to be long term. But in the US or Germany such loans would not be considered long term. 10 year fixes are quite normal in Germany, while in the US there are two standard long-term products, of 15 years and 30 years. Both have an interest rate fixed for the full life of the loan (in other words these loans have 15 and 30 year maturities respectively). Denmark also has 25 year fixed-rate loans. One key distinction is between long-term fixes with early repayment charges (ERCs) and those without. US long-term fixes carry no ERCs, and nor do those in Denmark, but in most countries (including Germany and the UK) LTFRMs traditionally carry ERCs. We believe it is appropriate to consider any mortgage with a fixed period of 10 years or above as a "long-term" fix. UK experience to date with LTFRMs In the UK lenders have offered long-term fixed-rate mortgages for many years, with the first products appearing in the 1980s. However, they have never constituted more than a tiny fraction of the market and lenders have generally reported disappointing sales, even when they are quite attractively priced relative to variable rate deals. Author Rob Thomas Senior policy adviser, CML Editor Bob Pannell Head of research, CML Very few of the long term fixes offered in the UK have been free from early repayment charges (ERCs). Bear Stearns offered a 25 year ERC-free fixed-rate deal in 1990 at 11.95% and this year London & Country offered a 30 year product at 5.99% with funding from Manchester Building Society. Such ERC-free loans are rare, because they present a risk to the lender that, if interest rates fall, the customer will redeem, leaving the lender with expensive fixed-rate funding that cannot be profitably redeployed. How are LTFRMs funded and how do lenders manage the risk of early repayment? To ensure that their interest margin is not squeezed by changes in interest rates, mortgage lenders require that the interest rate profile on their assets (mortgages) is matched to the interest profile December

2 CML Housing Finance on their liabilities (their funding). For example, where a lender raises funds from variable rate retail deposits, it will need to ensure that the income on its mortgage assets is also variable rate so that its margin is stable. Since UK lenders have traditionally raised most of their funds from variable rate retail deposits, they have tended to offer variable rate mortgages. However, there are two main ways in which lenders can fund fixed-rate mortgages. First, they can raise funds fixed to the same maturity as the loans (so a five year fixed-rate loan could be funded by a fiver fixed-rate bond issued in the capital markets). Alternatively, if they have variable rate funding, they can enter into a contract called an interest rate swap. This would allow them to swap the fixed-rate income they receive from their mortgage loans for a variable rate income to match the interest rate profile of their funding. An example of an interest rate swap Lender A has a 1bn five year fixed-rate mortgage book paying 6% funded from variable rate retail deposits currently receiving 5% interest. If variable rates rise and the lender needs to raise the interest rate it is paying on savings to 6%, its margin will be wiped out. To protect itself, the lender can enter into a contract to swap its fixed-rate income for variable rate income for the next five years. The rate at which the swap takes place is determined by the market's view of future interest rates, and supply and demand in the swaps market. If Lender A could swap its fixed-rate income of 6% for base rate plus 0.5% (which currently would be 6.25%), it would currently receive a net 0.25% from the swap counterparty. But if base rates fell to 5.0%, Lender A would be required to then pay the counterparty 0.5% (6.0%- 5.5%). This ensures that Lender A's income rises and falls in line with its variable rate funding, keeping its margin broadly constant. Problem of mortgage early repayment Whether the lender issues a fixed-rate bond or enters into an interest rate swap, it is faced by one additional problem the risk that some of its mortgage borrowers will redeem before the end of the fixed-rate period. As explained above, lenders have to ensure that their funding is in place for the period of the fix and if mortgage rates have fallen and borrowers redeem, the lender won t be able to redeploy redeemed funds at the original fixed rate (6% in the above example), endangering its margin. This is why most fixed-rate loans carry ERCs to compensate the lender for the potential loss to its margin if interest rates fall. The cost to the lender of early repayment can be calculated based on the extent to which interest rates have fallen. For example, suppose Lender A makes a 100,000 loan fixed at 6% for 10 years. If after a year the borrower redeems, the lender will receive back 100,000. Lender A 2 December 2007

3 Everything you always wanted to know about long-term fixed-rate mortgages but were afraid to ask has fixed-rate funding in place for the full 10 years so it needs to redeploy these funds. It finds that the highest fixed rate it can re-lend the money at for the remaining nine years of the original mortgage term is 5% as interest rates have fallen. Lender A thus has a shortfall in income of 1% a year for nine years (a total of 9,000). If Lender A's funding costs were 5.5%, then even ignoring other costs, it would be losing 0.5% a year against its funding costs alone. Because the extent of Lender A's losses vary according to how far interest rates have fallen, the most accurate way for it to be compensated is by 'mark-to-market' ERCs (that is, ERCs that reflect the type of calculation above). Indeed, if interest rates rise, the mark-to-market approach could lead to the borrower receiving a payment (although most borrowers would be unlikely to choose to redeem their loans on a discretionary basis under this interest rate environment, as a new rate on a remortgage deal would probably be higher than the fixed rate they were paying). In practice, the use of mark-to-market ERCs has been limited in the UK. Some lenders did use them in the 1990s but when interest rates fell sharply their borrowers faced high ERCs, attracting negative publicity. Since statutory mortgage regulation was introduced lenders have not been able to use mark-to-market ERCs as the FSA requires that borrowers know what ERCs they face when they take the loan out. So for simplicity and transparency, lenders usually charge a fixed percentage ERC (although these can step down over the life of the loan). ERCs are calculated to ensure that under most likely scenarios for interest rates the lender won t make a loss. But they cannot compensate the lender for extreme reductions in interest rates so lenders are still running some risks. Managing the potential impact of early repayment (or prepayment as it is known in the funding markets) on fixed-rate mortgages is difficult because the lender does not know in advance how many borrowers will redeem early. However, lenders can examine past borrower repayment patterns and use this to model expected repayment rates under different interest rate scenarios. While interest rate swaps can be used to match the profile of lenders' income and funding costs, there is another derivative that can be used to manage the financial impact of early repayment and it is known as a 'swaption'. A swaption is the right but not the obligation to enter into an interest rate swap contract at some specified future date. A swaption can provide a lender with an income stream following a sudden fall in interest rates that might reduce its income from mortgage loans. December

4 CML Housing Finance For example, let us suppose that Lender B has 1bn of 10 year fixed-rate mortgages paying 6% funded from a 10 year fixed-rate bond costing 5.5%. If after five years interest rates fall sharply and redeemed sums can only been redeployed at 4% Lender B will face funding losses alone of 1.5% pa on redeemed mortgages. But Lender B can enter into a swaption to swap variable rate income for fixed-rate income. If the swaption contract is to swap base rate for a fixed rate of 5.0%, the swaption would currently be 'out of the money' as base rate is 5.75% so Lender B would not exercise it. However, if interest rates fell with base rate moving to 3.75%, the swaption would be 'in the money' to the tune of 1.25% (5.0%-3.75%) and Lender B would collect an income stream that would help to offset the loss of income from redeeming mortgage borrowers. The Miles report and its recommendations HM Treasury's first attempt at understanding how to stimulate a LTFRM market came when it asked Professor David Miles to investigate the issue in The report was published in March 2004 with the key conclusions that: Consumers' understanding of risk of payment shock is poor. Consumers are overly focused on the initial monthly mortgage payment. The UK mortgage pricing structure, with its short term discounts, exacerbates consumer short-termism and creates a cross-subsidy from back to front book. There are some legislative and regulatory barriers to the effective funding of LTFRMs such as the building society wholesale funding limit of 50%. The Miles review made 20 recommendations. Some highlights were: Mortgage advisers should be required to provide 'what if' scenarios on interest rate movements to consumers. Lenders should be required to make their full range of mortgage products available to all borrowers. The government should consider the potential costs and benefits of issuing interest rate derivatives as part of its debt management function. The FSA should provide a definitive view on whether UK covered bonds are UCITS compliant. That the wholesale funding limits faced by building societies should be raised from 50% to 75% or 80%. 4 December 2007

5 Everything you always wanted to know about long-term fixed-rate mortgages but were afraid to ask The Treasury's response to the Miles Report was lukewarm. Few of the recommendations have been taken up although the government did back a private members bill this year to raise building societies' wholesale funding limit to 75% and, in the current Treasury review, it is investigating his proposal to explore whether government could act as an interest rate derivative counterparty as part of its national debt management. But, on the whole, it seems that government felt that Miles did not provide the blueprint for a significant shift to LTFRM which may explain why the Treasury is now undertaking another review into LTFRMs. Why is the Treasury revisiting LTFRMs in its current review and what conclusion might it reach? On 11 July HM Treasury released a new announcement on LTFRMs. It included three components: Announcing the impending public consultation on a statutory covered bond regime, something it believes could aid the development of a greater LTFRM market. Highlighting government backing for a private members bill to relax the funding restrictions facing building societies, potentially helping building societies to access wholesale funding to support LTFRMs. Announcing a Treasury review to identify barriers to lenders offering both competitive LTFRMs and a wider variety of housing finance products. The Treasury statement of 11 July includes notes on the terms of reference of the planned review (the third bullet point above). These are stated to include the following: The supply of and demand for financial instruments to allow the risks of mortgage prepayments to be hedged efficiently. This will include an up to date assessment of whether the debt management office (DMO) could use 'swaptions' (a financial instrument that gives the holder the option but not the obligation, at a point in the future, to enter into a swap contract, at an interest rate that is agreed now) to better manage the government's debt portfolio. The rapidly developing residential asset backed securities market, and assessing whether there are remaining obstacles or inefficiencies preventing further improvement in liquidity allowing securitisation to become a greater source of housing finance. The recent financial innovations aimed at repackaging housing and funding related risks which tend to be aimed at people on higher incomes, and assessing whether there may be important obstacles that prevent these opportunities from becoming more widely available. The Treasury review shows that the government's attraction to LTFRMs has not dimmed. This is perhaps driven by a sense that borrowers on high loan-to-income ratios are vulnerable to interest December

6 CML Housing Finance rate increases and that the economy as a whole could suffer if consumers are too sensitive to interest rate movements. The experience of the last recession may have convinced ministers of the risk if too many borrowers are hit by rising interest payments. There seems to be a feeling that the Miles review did not provide the breakthrough solution hoped for. The Miles recommendations could be described as tinkering with the existing mortgage system. His report did not seek to implant those elements of overseas mortgage markets that have facilitated LTFRMs such as a Danish style covered bond market or the government sponsored enterprises of the sort found in the US (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac). In fact, the current Treasury review team may find it just as difficult as David Miles to come up with proposals that will overturn UK consumers' indifference to LTFRMs. The government may be reluctant to promote or support a market in LTFRMs with ERCs as it may see them as not sufficiently consumer-friendly. The government appears more attracted to LTFRMs without ERCs like those which are popular in the US. However, the right to repay the loan early without charge comes at a cost. Whoever funds these loans needs to be compensated for the risk of early repayment so these loans carry a higher rate of interest which is paid by all borrowers including those that do not take advantage of the right to repay early. This cost will vary but seems generally to add 0.5% or more to the loan rate. Whatever the Treasury decides, it seems unlikely it will act unilaterally but rather will want to work with the mortgage lending industry. The Treasury does seem to recognise that there are complex issues to be negotiated in attempting to develop a larger market in LTFRMs. What key issues need to be addressed to stimulate a larger market in LTFRMs? What is preventing LTFRMs from becoming more mainstream in the UK as they are in many other countries? One element is customer tastes. UK consumers are used to variable rate mortgages and tend to have an aversion to being 'locked in' with ERCs. And as David Miles reported, UK consumers seem to be overly focused on the initial interest cost of their loan and much less concerned about the payment profile in later years. Perhaps because of this customer focus, the UK market has for many years been dominated by loans with front end discounts. This pricing structure works against the development of a LTFRM market because it makes LTFRM rates look uncompetitive, particularly to customers who are happy to remortgage every few years. The prevalence of intermediaries may be another factor holding back the LTFRM market. Intermediaries are paid each time they arrange a loan and therefore have little incentive to promote LTFRMs where the customer may not need to refinance for many years. 6 December 2007

7 Everything you always wanted to know about long-term fixed-rate mortgages but were afraid to ask It is quite difficult to see how these kinds of barriers can be surmounted. Intermediaries have a fairly entrenched position in the mortgage market while borrowers' focus on immediate costs requires lenders to produce highly attractive initial rates. Many lenders have produced LTFRMs only to find very limited customer interest. What are the prospects for the LTFRM market? The Treasury review reports back in budget We are not expecting a surprise announcement of any major new initiatives (like a UK Fannie Mae) and we believe Treasury will want to work with the mortgage industry to come up with solutions. Maybe the Treasury will ultimately accept that the measures that might stimulate a LTFRM market are either too controversial or too expensive (as with the idea to provide mortgage interest tax relief for LTFRMs) but at the same time traditional consumer attitudes are gradually changing anyway. Evidence from a number of countries that previously had predominantly either fixed-rate or variable-rate mortgages, suggests that a convergence is taking place. This is certainly true of the UK where a market that was previously dominated by variable rate loans now sees the majority of new lending at short-term fixed rate. More consumers might start to see the benefit of LTFRMs. Mortgage lenders' willingness to innovate in this product area suggests that lenders will be more than happy to meet such demand if it arrives. December

8 CML Housing Finance Further information on Housing Finance Housing Finance is an authoritative online journal which provides in-depth articles on a wide range of mortgage related issues. For free online access to other recent articles and a subject index see A package of CML Statistics that complement Housing Finance online is free to members and associates or can be subscribed to by non-members (for details see For further information on Housing Finance articles contact the editor Bob Pannell at Copyright 2007 Council of Mortgage Lenders. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical. Photocopying or other means of recording are forbidden without the prior written permission of the publisher. The Council of Mortgage Lenders North West Wing, Bush House, Aldwych, London WC2B 4PJ Telephone: Fax: Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of information contained within the report but the Council of Mortgage Lenders cannot be held responsible for any remaining inaccuracies. The opinions expressed in this report are the responsibility of the authors alone and are not necessarily the views of the Council of Mortgage Lenders. ISSN: December 2007

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