Banks rescue package: will they start lending again?
Melanie Bien, director, Savills Private Finance, is a guest commentator. The opinions expressed in this commentary are her own.
It is too early to say whether the latest bank rescue plan will have the desired effect of persuading the banks to start lending again. But it is a step in the right direction and we welcome it as a positive move as it may just remove the remaining stumbling blocks to getting the credit and mortgage markets functioning properly once more.
Clearly, something further had to be done. October’s £37bn bank recapitalisation did little to persuade banks to regain their appetite for lending. Credit continues to be difficult to come by – unless you have a large deposit or equity in your home and a clean credit history.
The latest bailout aims to guarantee lending and insure banks’ bad debts, such as sub-prime lending in the US. The idea is that banks won’t need to hold back vast sums in case of default on loans – something they have been doing until now. What is particularly encouraging is that this is a comprehensive package of measures which taken together is likely to have more of an impact on increasing new lending than addressing one area at a time.
The new £100bn mortgage guarantee scheme to underwrite lending between banks and financial institutions as recommended in Sir James Crosby’s report, is perhaps the most significant development. Before the credit crunch hit, the securitisation market was a key source of funding for the mortgage market, responsible for a third of all lending. This scheme should help rejuvenate the securitisation market, which has all but closed.
There is a danger that it may prove to be too restrictive, however, as only AAA-rated securities are covered.
Much also depends on how honest the banks are about their exposure to bad debt. A fee-based insurance scheme whereby the Treasury and banks will identify bad loans or toxic debts that will ultimately be covered by the taxpayer should remove some of the blockages in the system that are preventing the flow of mortgage lending. But without an honest and open declaration of exposure by all the banks, it will be very difficult to draw a line under what has gone before and start afresh.
The extension to the £250bn credit guarantee scheme announced in October until the end of this year should also have a positive impact, allowing banks and building societies to roll over new debt, as should the new liquidity scheme to replace the Special Liquidity Scheme allowing banks to swap illiquid assets for gilts.
The change in strategy with Northern Rock is interesting. Instead of encouraging the lender to run down its business and shrink its mortgage book, the government has changed tack. The bank will now encourage existing customers to stay, presumably with more attractive reversion deals. It will also look to attract new borrowers – hopefully those purchasing, not just remortgaging, with more attractive rates.
We wait to see whether this package will have the desired effect and get banks lending again. Mortgages are already becoming cheaper but tend to be most readily available to the lowest-risk borrowers with significant deposits or equity in their homes. An increase in liquidity should encourage more lenders into the market and more competitive rates.