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The Market Pulse from Genworth

market-pulseLast year’s mortgage regulations shrank the overall high-ratio mortgage insurance market by about 15%, according to recent estimates from Genworth Canada.

Those rule changes also eliminated high-ratio refinances and contributed to a 15% drop in housing sales last quarter versus Q1 2012.

Genworth CEO Brian Hurley spoke today on BNN about the pulse of the market. Here are some of his insights of note (our comments in italics):

  • As an insurer, “We make money by getting the risk right.” That means “We’ve got to get the properties right,” he told BNN.
    (If one is to read into this, and if history is a guide, we can expect more scrutiny on appraisals and property types as the market slows. This is especially true in richly valued markets like the Greater Toronto Area and Vancouver.)
  • Arrears-Mortgage“Our two factors that drive our business performance are delinquencies, driven by unemployment (a very high correlation), and the size of our claims…(as) driven by home price declines.”
    (As a result, Hurley hinted that Genworth is now focusing more on employment quality in its underwriting.)
  • Genworth has been extra careful about insuring condos with a large investment component—typically those with small unit sizes.
  • For the next few years “the mortgage market is going to be flat,” he predicted. It will be “a couple of years until we see [the mortgage market] back to the 5-6% growth rate.”
  • Genworth is seeing 24-25% average gross debt ratios (GDS) for first-time buyers
    (That may seem surprisingly low and well below the normal maximum of 32-39%. But CAAMP found that the average GDS of an insured fixed-rate borrower was 22.5% in 2010—the latest marketwide GDS data we know of.)

Other factoids from Genworth Canada’s recent earnings reports and conference call:

  • Genworth-FinancialGenworth says it now controls about one-third of the mortgage insurance market.
  • Only about 60% of mortgage delinquencies actually require Genworth to pay a claim. The rest are “worked out” or otherwise resolved.
  • Genworth’s principal balance of insured mortgages was approximately $150 billion at year-end 2012 and 2011. The company had previously estimated its 2011 insurance in force at $204 billion. That’s quite the botched estimate for an insurer that’s expected to know its exposure. At least it tried to be conservative by overestimating, versus underestimating. On a positive business note, this leaves it and Canada Guaranty with a combined $150 billion of insurance they can write (and still fit under the federal cap), versus CMHC’s $34 billion.

Rob McLister, CMT