The worsening global credit crisis has forced the Reserve Bank to significantly boost the amount of cash available to the banks and others in the financial markets.

Australian banks have been virtually cut out of refinancing from overseas sources since midway through last month when Lehman Brothers failed and other financial groups were rescued or nationalised, a point acknowledged obliquely this morning by the RBA when it said: “Conditions in global money markets have deteriorated significantly in recent weeks, with flow-on effects to domestic markets.”

The RBA will now allow the banks to raise tens of billions of dollars of cash, when they need to six months and 12 months under the new scheme.

This will effectively replace the six and 12 month borrowings the banks have raised overseas in the past year, some of which are now approaching what’s called ‘rollover’ and the attendant risk of not being able to roll the borrowing over, or doing so at a sharply higher interest rate, or a smaller amount.

It was the major point the IMF referred to in its examination report of our banking system released on September 23.

The credit freeze internationally means the rolling over of these facilities will be all but impossible because overseas banks and other investors are not lending to anyone longer than overnight at best.

Some estimates put these offshore borrowings at $A120 billion.

Australian banks and other lenders (called Authorised Deposit Taking Institutions) will now be able to deal in their own home loans and commercial paper in liquidity management operations with the Reserve Bank.

Up to this morning’s surprise announcement the banks had been barred from using their own mortgages or paper generated from their own balance sheets or that of a related party. They could only use third party RMBS or third party asset backed paper. That was allowed in a decision from the Bank in September of 2007.

That has been significantly widened in today’s announcement when the RBA said:

“Conditions in global money markets have deteriorated significantly in recent weeks, with flow-on effects to domestic markets.

“In order to provide authorised deposit-taking institutions (ADIs) greater flexibility to manage their liquidity in these circumstances, the Reserve Bank has decided to make some changes to its domestic market operating procedures. Specifically:

  • The current restriction that prevents an institution from using residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) and asset-backed commercial paper (ABCP) of a related party as collateral in its repo operations with the Bank will be relaxed. This also applies to the US dollar term repo facility.
  • The Bank will offer six-month and one-year repos each day in its market operations.
  • Restrictions on substituting collateral within an existing repo, with the exception of general collateral, will be removed. Where the substitution includes a change in the asset class of collateral, the margin applying to that collateral will be adjusted accordingly.”

The amount potentially available in this significant change is unknown, but it is known that the Commonwealth Bank has around $A16.58 billion of its mortgages effectively ‘self-securitised’ in a series of what are called Residential Mortgage backed Securities (RMBS). Westpac has a similar amount and the NAB and ANZ and St George have smaller amounts.

The banks self securitised many of their home loans earlier this year (around May and June) after discussions with the regulators, led by APRA (prudential) and the RBA. It was done specifically for this purpose, in case the banks needed to generate a lot of new cash over specific periods to maintain liquidity levels in their balance sheets.

All up the amount of RMBS generated from their own home loans could be $A60 billion or more, plus an unknown amount from the self securitising of their asset backed commercial paper holdings.

The banks will be able to offer the RBA these self-securitised home and commercial loans each morning. Rather than a normal repurchase agreement which is all about short term liquidity management, these repos will be specific to each bank and will try and match the amounts the banks need to replace offshore and other borrowings that they are unable to rollover.

Consumer confidence tumbled this month after a small recovery in September.

The index fell 11% from September to 82 points, according to the latest survey from Westpac and the Melbourne Institute which was released this morning.

It was the ninth straight monthly reading of less than 100, showing pessimists continue to dominate optimists. The survey was taken before yesterday’s shock rate cut.

Westpac’s head of economics Bill Evans said in a statement that since stock market crash in 1987, there have had only nine months when the index has fallen by more than 11%.

He said the latest drop was sparked by the escalation of the credit crisis midway through last month..

Westpac’s survey of 1,200 consumers was conducted between September 30 and Sunday of this week, October 5.

Peter Fray

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