UPDATE 2-NZ central bank to review mortgage lending curbs, delays bank capital hike

(Adds background and analyst comment)

WELLINGTON, Nov 11 (Reuters) - New Zealand’s Central Bank said on Wednesday that it would consult next month on whether to reintroduce limits on the amount of “high-risk lending” banks can make, amid growing concerns of a housing bubble in the country.

The Reserve Bank of New Zealand removed the loan-to-value ratio (LVR) restrictions on mortgage lending until May earlier this year to spur credit flow and boost the economy hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

But historically low interest rates, no LVR restriction, and chronic shortages have pushed up prices in an already booming housing market.

New Zealand’s house prices have soared nearly 90% over the past decade, with some centres up 20-30% in the past three years.

RBNZ said it would consult about reinstating LVR restrictions on high-risk lending from March.

“Circumstances in the lending market have since improved and we are now observing rapid growth in higher-risk investor lending,” Deputy Governor Geoff Bascand said in a statement.

Under LVR restrictions banks could only make up to 20% of their residential mortgage lending to owner-occupiers paying deposits of less than 20%. No more than 5% of such lending could be to investors with deposits of less than 30%.

RBNZ also said on Wednesday that it had delayed the start of increases in bank capital requirements until 2022. The increase in the prudential capital buffer will not begin until July 2022.

Westpac Bank said the actions were designed to suppress housing lending and supporting business lending.

“LVRs on property investors might take some of the heat out of the housing market,” said Chief Economist Dominick Stephens.

“Meanwhile, capital requirements would be a handbrake mostly on business lending. Delaying their introduction is therefore supportive for business lending.”

The RBNZ also announced that restrictions on dividend payouts will be retained until March 31, 2021, or later if required.

RBNZ is widely expected to hold interest rates at 0.25% at its meeting on Wednesday, while introducing a new monetary policy tool to drive borrowing costs for lenders lower. (Reporting by Praveen Menon and Shashwat Awasthi; Editing by Shailesh Kuber, Jonathan Oatis and Sonya Hepinstall)